Democracy is a free press

By Mary Kadlec

Many people associate the First Amendment with free speech, but they often forget freedom of the press is also protected. What is so essential about a free press that our Founding Fathers included alongside freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government?

Press freedom was deemed essential to protect citizens and limit government power. It provided the right to publish thoughts and opinions without censorship, enabling citizens to hold public officials accountable.

This right was especially important to Americans in the 18th century when the British government attempted to prohibit American media from printing information that would portray them in a negative light.

Having a free press to serve as a public watchdog is still necessary. The press can be credited for bringing attention to some of the biggest political stories in our history among former presidents.

Barack Obama, a frequent target of the press especially in his second term, was heavily criticized about how he handled Syria, the National Security Advisor surveillance program, and the persecution of whistleblowers.

George W. Bush came under fire for his defense of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Bill Clinton was hounded after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was leaked.

Richard Nixon is the only U.S. president to resign after his involvement in the Watergate scandal was uncovered.

The press wouldn’t be doing their job if they weren’t questioning public officials, but that has certainly led to a tenuous relationship.

Most recently, the press is often on the receiving end of one of President Trump’s frequent vitriolic diatribes.

Suddenly, attacking the press has become a political maneuver to build distrust in journalists and diminish the impact of reporting.

Since the beginning of his administration, President Trump has tweeted that the press is the “enemy of the people” dozens of times. The term “fake news” has become a household term.

Not only is President Trump attacking the press, but he has tried banning members of the press from the White House and withdrawing from press functions altogether. Last year, he held only two White House press briefings.

Thankfully, attacks against the press have led young adults to become more interested in journalism and college applications to journalism programs have steadily increased in recent years.

There are a number of helpful skills honed with a journalism degree, such as writing, researching, and interviewing which can be transferrable to any field.

Most importantly, young adults are taught early on to be responsible consumers of information and to appreciate First Amendment protections.

On Jan. 29, students around the country participated in National Student Press Freedom Day to recognize student journalists and the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment.
Even in 2020, students encounter censorship in the form of an institution refusing to print or removing articles.

Grace Marion, a senior editor at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pa., reported on her school’s mishandling of sexual misconduct in 2018 until the administration attempted to suppress the story. Marion said it was just one of many stories the administration tried to stop from printing.

The Student Press Law Center has led a recent campaign called “New Voices” to expand protection for student press freedom. There are only 14 states with laws that protect student journalists.

It is essential for more states to sign on to protect press freedom for young adults since they are the future of journalism.

In a field that has seen a dramatic reduction in workforce over the last decade, young journalists are filling a critical gap. They provide a fresh perspective and are shaping the evolving landscape of journalism.

As the shift continues from print to digital, newspapers are folding and reductions in news staff means local news coverage has been scaled back tremendously.

School board meetings aren’t being covered, budgets are being passed without comments, and public officials are going unchecked.

In 2018, Pew Research Center revealed that younger generations are getting their news from social media. News websites are the second most commonly used news platform for this age group.

Complicating matters, the Internet is rampant with extremist information disseminated by false organizations to stir anger and rally supporters of a cause.

An increase in opinion-based television segments and columns have also led to opinions becoming dangerously conflated with fact.

Consumers need to support journalism and news organizations that promote the truth and freedom from censorship. We must consider what’s at stake if we lose those news sources.

A free press ensures a healthy democracy.

This is why good journalism is needed now more than ever.

Contact Mary Kadlec at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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