There’s a reason the Bill of Rights protects journalism
by Betsy Fell, 8/16/18
The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as listed in the Bill of Rights states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Why were freedom of speech and freedom of the press protected in the Bill of Rights? Because a democracy depends on the decisions of those who vote.
Voters make better decisions when informed about what is happening in the world around them. Problems arise when people base their actions on incomplete or erroneous data. (Ever buy a house without inspecting it first?) Similarly, leaders will make better decisions if they possess accurate information.
Journalists gather and report information about all kinds of topics—sports, education, crime, weather, business, world events, politics and government. Most journalists stick fairly close to home, but there are a few who report from the world’s most dangerous trouble spots. How did all these folks become “enemies of the people”?
Or, is it only those who report “fake news” who are enemies? Biased reporting does happen sometimes, and is all the more reason that citizens should be exposed to a wide range of news sources—and be educated to have the skills to detect biased and unbiased writing, wherever they encounter it.
However, most of today’s controversy is about newspapers that ask difficult questions and/or print opinion essays critical of the current government. Should officials be able to weed out these newspapers and only share public information with a chosen few?
A democracy cannot survive without an informed citizenry. Leaders who knowingly make misstatements are not helping the people they govern. What happens when a charismatic leader encourages supporters to distrust most news sources? It weakens the people’s ability to discern the truth. It weakens their ability to value the truth. Yet it is the truth that protects them. ∆