freedom of the press(redirected from Freedom of the press in the United States)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal.
press, freedom of the,liberty to print or to otherwise disseminate information, as in print, by broadcasting, or through electronic media, without prior restraints such as licensing requirements or content review and without subsequent punishment for what is said. Freedom of the press, which has been limited not only by governments but at times by churches, is absolute in no country. In modern democracies it is rarely attacked by overt forms of censorshipcensorship,
official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order. It may be imposed by governmental authority, local or national, by a religious body, or occasionally by a powerful private group.
..... Click the link for more information. but is often compromised by governments' ability to withhold information, by self-censorship in reaction to various pressures, by selective government "leaking" of information or disinformation, and by other factors.
In the United States, freedom of the press and the broader freedom of speech (see speech, freedom ofspeech, freedom of,
liberty to speak and otherwise express oneself and one's opinions. Like freedom of the press (see press, freedom of the), which pertains to the publication of speech, freedom of speech itself has been absolute in no time or place. The First Amendment to the U.
..... Click the link for more information. ) are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and are considered fundamental rights of the people. In practice, though, some kinds of speech and publication (e.g., obscenityobscenity,
in law, anything that tends to corrupt public morals by its indecency. The moral concepts that the term connotes vary from time to time and from place to place. In the United States, the word obscenity is a technical legal term. In the 1950s the U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. or violations of copyrightcopyright,
right granted by statute to the author or originator of certain literary, artistic, and musical productions whereby for a limited period of time he or she controls the use of the product.
..... Click the link for more information. ) are considered outside the amendment's purview, and others, like commercial speech (advertising or product claims), receive a reduced level of protection. In addition, broadcasters are subject to government licensing requirements. The protections to be afforded users of on-line computer services, the InternetInternet, the,
international computer network linking together thousands of individual networks at military and government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, industrial and financial corporations of all sizes, and commercial enterprises (called gateways
..... Click the link for more information. , and other new means of publication are the focus of a developing debate; in 1996 a federal district court panel struck down the new Communications Decency Act, holding that Internet communications were entitled to the same degree of protection as printed communications.
Historically, restriction of the press has occurred in two ways. The first may be either censorship or mandatory licensing by the government in advance of publication; the second is punishment for printed material, especially that considered by the government to be seditious libel, i.e., material that may "excite disaffection" against constituted authority (see lese majestylese majesty
or leze majesty
[Fr. lèse majesté, Lat. laesae maiestatis (crimen)=(crime of) violating majesty], offense against the dignity of the sovereign of a state or of a state itself.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Censorship of the press began not long after the invention of the printing press. Pope Alexander VI issued (1501) a notice requiring printers to submit copy to church authorities before publication, in order to prevent heresy. Penalties for bypassing the censors included fines and excommunication.
Early English Restrictions and Developments
In England, where the struggle for press freedom first began, the appearance of unauthorized publications resulted in a royal proclamation (1534) requiring prepublication licensing. Stronger restrictive measures were taken by the later Tudor and Stuart monarchs, and censorship came to be applied more to political criticism than religious heresy. John MiltonMilton, John,
1608–74, English poet, b. London, one of the greatest poets of the English language. Early Life and Works
The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. , in his Areopagitica (1644), attacked the licensing law and called on Parliament to suppress offensive publications after their appearance if necessary. Milton's objections to prior restraint eventually became a cornerstone of press freedom, but it was not until 1695 that the licensing and censorship laws were abolished.
Severe restrictions on the press continued, however, in the form of seditious libel laws under which the government was able to arrest and punish any printer who published material in any way critical of the government. There was no clear definition of what constituted seditious libel, and in the 18th cent. the printing of parliamentary debates had to be disguised as debates between classical figures. At this time, both true and false criticism of the government was considered libel. In fact, legal doctrine proclaimed that "the greater the truth the greater the libel." Only in the mid-19th cent. did truth become admissible as a defense in English libel cases.
In the United States
The defense of John Peter ZengerZenger, John Peter
, 1697–1746, American journalist, b. Germany. He emigrated to America in 1710 and was trained in the printing trade by the pioneer printer William Bradford.
..... Click the link for more information. against libel charges in 1735 is often seen as the cornerstone of American press freedom. After the American Revolution, several states provided for freedom of the press, and the First Amendment (1791) to the U.S. Constitution declared that "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Whether these acts were intended to prohibit prosecution for seditious libel or merely to prohibit prior restraint has been a matter of controversy. In reaction to the Sedition Act (1798), a more libertarian interpretation of the First Amendment became dominant, which saw it as rejecting seditious libel as a crime. The First Amendment was later (beginning in the 1920s) applied to all the states by judicial interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868).
Wartime situations often present challenges to the legal limits of press freedom. What was looked upon as irresponsible reporting during the Civil War led to attempts by civil and military authorities to impose restrictions upon the press. Appeals by the War Department for publishers to voluntarily suppress news that was strategic to the war were, however, largely ineffective. During World War I, near hysteria over the possibility of sabotage led Congress to pass the Espionage Acts (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918). These acts limited freedom of the press to such an extent that not only was censorship exercised against pro-German publications but also against German-language publications and those advocating socialism or pacifism.
In 1931, the Supreme Court, in Near v. Minnesota, for the first time declared almost all forms of prior restraint to be unconstitutional. In World War II the Office of Censorship, under the direction of Byron Price, expanded upon techniques developed by George Creel's Censorship Board of World War I. The new office supervised (1941–45) the most comprehensive censorship in U.S. history. Compliance was voluntary, however, and was based on the office's suggestion to editors on topics to avoid. Because Price and his assistants were respected journalists themselves, newspapers and journals cooperated. Similar cooperation was accorded to the Office of War Information, which controlled the flow of news from government agencies. As a result, the government rarely took punitive action.
After the war, many news organizations undertook campaigns against secrecy in government, maintaining that the withholding of public records threatens freedom of the press. As world tensions heightened during the cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
..... Click the link for more information. in the 1950s and 60s, defense officials often protested that the mere absence of war did not justify peacetime openness in the press.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, there were frequent charges and countercharges between journalists and government officials concerning the withholding of information on the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
..... Click the link for more information. by the government. The only recognized grounds for prior restraint, national security, was tested in 1971 when Daniel EllsbergEllsberg, Daniel,
1931–, American political activist, b. Chicago, grad. Columbia Univ. (B.S., 1952, Ph.D., 1959). After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he worked for the Rand Corporation (1959–64; 1967–70), conducting studies on defense policies.
..... Click the link for more information. , a former government employee who believed that information that should be made public was being withheld by the government, released the Pentagon PapersPentagon Papers,
government study of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in June, 1967, the 47-volume, top secret study covered the period from World War II to May, 1968.
..... Click the link for more information. , a collection of classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War. The government tried to block their publication, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), permitted their release.
The First Amendment has not been extended to the gathering as well as the publication of news. The experience of the Vietnam War led the U.S. government to restrict the access of reporters in combat areas in subsequent military encounters. This practice, used during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and the 1991 Persian Gulf War, was bitterly resented by many reporters. In domestic affairs, although a number of states have passed shield laws, which permit journalists to refuse to disclose confidential information and sources to law-enforcement bodies, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized no unrestricted right of press confidentiality.
See P. Lahav, Press Law in Modern Democracies (1984); W. W. Van Alsytne, Interpretations of the First Amendment (1984); L. Levy, The Emergence of a Free Press (1985).
freedom of the press:see press, freedom of thepress, freedom of the,
liberty to print or to otherwise disseminate information, as in print, by broadcasting, or through electronic media, without prior restraints such as licensing requirements or content review and without subsequent punishment for what is said.
..... Click the link for more information. .