Freedom of the press in the United States
Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause is generally understood as prohibiting the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions, although freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is subject to some restrictions, such as defamation law and copyright law.
In Lovell v. City of Griffin, Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, "every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion." The First Amendment's Freedom of the Press Clause has been extended to media including newspapers, books, plays, movies, and video games. While the question remains whether bloggers or people posting on social media like Facebook and Twitter are covered by the Free Press Clause, they are covered by the Free Speech Clause.
As famously said by journalist A. J. Liebling, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." The individuals, businesses, and organizations that own a means of publication are able to publish information and opinions without government interference, and cannot be compelled by the government to publish information and opinions that they disagree with. For example, the owner of a printing press cannot be required to print advertisements for a political opponent, even if the printer normally accepts commercial printing jobs.
- New York Times Co. v. United States (1971): The Supreme Court upheld the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
- New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964): The Supreme Court held that when a publication involves a public figure, in order to support a suit for libel, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the publisher acted with "actual malice," meaning that the publisher knew of the falsity of the statement or acted with reckless disregard as to the truth of the statement.
Ranking of United States press freedom
As of 2013, the United States is ranked 32nd in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This is a measure of freedom available to the press, encompassing areas such as government censorship, and not indicative of the quality of journalism. There was a fall from 20th in 2010 to 42nd in 2012, which was attributed to arrests of journalists covering the Occupy movement.
Extraterritorial regions of the US ranked 57th.
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- In 1798, not so long after the adoption of the Constitution, the governing Federalist Party attempted to stifle criticism by means of the Alien and Sedition Acts. (It was notable that the Sedition Act made criticism of Congress, and of the President, a crime, but not criticism of the Vice-President. Jefferson, a non-Federalist, was Vice-President at the time the Act was passed.) These restrictions on freedom of the press proved very unpopular in the end and worked against the Federalists, leading to the party's eventual demise. Thomas Jefferson was among those who opposed the Acts, and did so vehemently, and he was elected President in the election of 1800. Jefferson then pardoned most of those convicted under the Acts. He made it a principle not to ask what they had done, but only whether they had been charged under the Acts. In his first Inaugural Address in 1801 he reiterated his longstanding commitment to freedom of speech and of the press: "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."
- In mid August 1861 four newspapers in New York City: New York Daily News, Journal of Commerce, Day Book, and Freeman’s Journal were all given a presentment by a Grand Jury of the United States Circuit Court for “frequently encouraging the rebels by expressions of sympathy and agreement”. This began a series of federal prosecutions of newspapers throughout the Northern United States during the Civil War which printed expressions of sympathy for Southern causes or criticisms of the Lincoln Administration. Lists of "peace newspapers" that had been published in protest by the New York Daily News were used to conduct planned retributions. The Bangor Democrat, in Maine, was one of these newspapers, where assailants, believed to be part of a covert Federal raid, destroyed the press and set the newspaper facility ablaze. These actions all followed various "executive orders" issued by President Lincoln, including his eighth order on August 7, 1861, which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold "correspondence with" or give "intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly". This was taken as explicit permission and direction for action for various State and Federal executive and legislative bodies.
- The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which amended it, imposed restrictions on the free press during wartime. It carried fines of $10,000 and up to 20 years imprisonment for people publishing "... disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States ..." In Schenck v. United States (1919), the Supreme Court upheld the laws, setting the "Clear and present danger" standard. Congress repealed both laws in 1921, and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) revised the "Clear and present danger" test to the "Imminent lawless action" test, which is less restrictive.
- 1988: Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier: The Supreme Court upheld that the principal of a school has the right to review and block controversial articles of a school paper funded by the school and published in the school's name.
- In the United States in 2005, interpretation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act may consider political statements as being the equivalent of campaign donations. Because access to Internet statements are weakly controlled, the campaign value of statements is not known in advance and a high ultimate value may trigger large fines for violations. This particularly threatens Internet statements by individuals, and ambiguous definitions of membership in the press make the possible effects ambiguous.
- Lovell, at 452. 303 U.S. 444 (1938)
- Adam Liptak (June 27, 2011). "Justices Reject Ban on Violent Video Games for Children". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 19, 2013. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
- Mataconis, Doug (May 28, 2013). "Bloggers, Media Shield Laws, And The First Amendment". Outside The Beltway. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
- Liebling, A. J. "Do you belong in journalism?", The New Yorker (14 May 1960)
- Jack Mirkinson (January 25, 2012). "Press Freedom Index: Occupy Wall Street Journalist Arrests Cost U.S. Dearly In Latest Survey". Huffington Post.
- Words at War: The Civil War and American Journalism by David B. Sachsman, Purdue University Press, 2008.