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The research paper I wrote, The Importance of Freedom of Press, truly taught me the importance of the First Amendment. This was a paper we had to write during my summer semester online Media Law class. Dr. Stevenson wanted us to use famous case studies and write how they defined the people’s right to freedom of speech. In this paper I was able to review the importance of important media ethics such as libel.

After, learning more about the multiple case studies we studied and the First Amendment it makes me appreciate the freedom as journalist we have in the United States. The freedom of speech is something that will always be fought for by the people and press. Writing this paper made me very knowledgeable about our nations most important amendment.

The Importance of The Freedom of Press

Written by:

David Pruett

The First Amendment could be considered the most important part of our Constitution. It is what drives us Americans to be who we are. It is what we fight for and cherishes the most. There many different components to the First Amendment, it includes the freedom of Speech, Freedom of Press, Freedom of religion and freedom Petition and Assembly and Freedom of Association. Having the freedom of speech gives the people of the United State of American a feeling of reason. The one component that has caused a substantial amount of cases in America’s history is The Freedom of Press. When the First Amendment was written by the nations founding fathers the idea of Freedom of Press was considered a daring and brave act.

Throughout our nations history the Freedom of Press has had to evolve. There has been a numerous amount of cases that have questioned the power of Freedom of Press. Even today it has become a sensitive and powerful subject to debate about. The press has to continue to fight for this freedom throughout history. Many laws and ethics have had to come into play. Journalists now have to watch what they write or say about a significant other. The press has to be aware of the Privacy Act of 1974, which protects citizen’s identity. The most important rule the press has to follow is Libel and actual malice. A case that proves the constitution is more powerful then the government is New York Times v. United States.

The New York Times v. United States Case also famously known as the “Pentagon Papers.” The government wanted to stop the release of the papers showing the Defense Department report of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the public. The government believed the release of these papers could affect the view on the war. The press felt as if the government was lying to the public about the war and hiding secrets. The government filed an injunction on the New York Times saying the Pentagon Papers should be considered Top Secret.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York Times because the first Amendment protects the freedom of press. This is a perfect example of how the constitution over powers the government.

An example of how the Freedom of Press has had to evolve throughout history is the famous case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. This case involved a student wanted to print two articles that the principal found inappropriate. The school didn’t allow the newspaper to print these articles in their next school paper. The student, Kuhlmeier and student body filed suit against the principle and school district. The court ruled in favor of the school and its district. The Freedom of Press allows Kuhlmeier’s articles be printed however, the school newspaper cannot be characterized as a forum for public expression. This is an example of Freedom of Press has limited from what can be said in certain types of newspapers.

The Freedom of Press has created journalist to have a very free range of news they can report. There are many ethical issues with the Freedom of Press. Every journalist has a code of ethics they follow.  The code protects the reputation of the journalist and of the news organizations they work for. A very popular principal many journalist use is the limitation of harm. Journalist often will withhold certain information of a report to help protect the subjects of the story. A journalist rarely ever wants to harm someone’s reputation. With Freedom of Press journalist most respect their rights and use these ethics to help protect the freedom and their reputation. There are famous incidents in with people say the ethical codes were broken. Take the New York Times v. United State Case. The way the Pentagon Papers were received by the press and used was against ethics. Also in this case the final result affected the reputation of the government drastically. However, the reason why the press ran the story of the “Pentagon Papers” was because the public had the right to know what the government was hiding. There is a thin balance of when the code of ethics should be broken. If the public has a right to know then ethics sometimes will be broken.

Libel is a very common law broken by the press. It can ruin a journalist career and also ruin the reputation of a news station. Libel is when published or broadcast communication that lowers the reputation of an individual by holding him or her up to contempt, ridicule or scorn. There have been many cases where people have felt as if libel has happened to them. Journalists have to be carful because they can sometimes-accidental write a story that hurt someone’s reputation simply by given false information.  This brings up the situation of actual malice. Actual malice is when a fault standard in libel law, knowledge before publication that the libelous material was false or reckless disregard of the truth of falsity of the libelous matter.

A case in which Libel is a key factor is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution v. Jewell.  This was an interesting case because it also dealt with the differences between a private and public figure.  Jewell saved many lives during the 1998 Summer Olympic bombing in downtown Atlanta. He soon became national hero and his story became a national one. The AJC then released an article saying he was under investigation for being one of the suspects. Jewell filed libel lawsuit and won. He had to prove actual malice of the information.

So, the right of Freedom of Press does come with responsibilities and ethics to follow. Freedom of Press has had to evolve over time. Some parts of it alerted but the true meaning never changed.  The New York Times v. United States proves that the First Amendment is always more powerful then the government. The American public has the incredible and valuable right of Freedom of Press.  There are many different cases where Freedom of Press is brought up. The United States of America’s right of Freedom of Press is what the America’s forefathers wanted. It has caused controversy throughout history but remains one of the most valuable rights Americans have.

Work cited:

. “Freedom of The Press Cases.” . Syracuse University, n.d. Web. 21 Jun 2012. <http://www2.maxwell.syr.edu/plegal/scales/fop.html&gt;.

. “News.” Reporters committee for freedom of the press. RCFP, n.d. Web. 21 Jun 2012. <http://www.rcfp.org/&gt;.

. “Freedom of the press in the United States.” . N.p., 26 J. Web. 21 Jun 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_the_press_in_the_United_States&gt;.

Pember, Don, and Clay Calbert. Mass Media Law . 17th. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2011. eBook.

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