Freedom of Press

Media, Politics, and Government
Freedom of the Press
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…
of the press…”
Origins of freedom of
the press:
Colonial-era printing press
What Is the Press?
Traditional forms:
Non-traditional forms:
Free Press: Essential to Democracy
• The media as the “fourth branch” of
• Important benefits of a free press:
— Open expression of ideas
— Advances collective
knowledge and understanding
— Communication with
government representatives
— Allows for peaceful social
— Protects individual rights
Freedom of the Press: History
• Original intent of the First
Amendment was to protect political
• Limitations on freedom of the
— Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)
— Courts defined the scope of
freedom of the press
Original text of the
Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)
• Identifying a “clear and
present danger” and
clarifying libel
• Protection against prior
amendment guarantees
freedom of the press
• This prevents the gov’t from censoring
newspapers, magazines, etc.
• Some argue this was done to create the
4th branch of our gov’t
– The press can inform people regarding
actions of the gov’t
Confidentiality of
Reporters’ Sources
• Reporters do not have the
same legal protections as
doctors or lawyers when it
comes to sources
• “Shield laws”
• Reporters…
Gag Order
• Gag order –
• Prior Restraint-
Gag Order
• Allowed only if:
– Publication would cause a certain, serious,
and irreparable harm
– The prior restraint would be effective in
avoiding the harm.
Prohibiting Publication
– In 1976, US determined the gag order as
unconstitutional because it is prior restraint
Prohibiting Publication
• Rather, the court should take steps to
lessen publicity
• Supreme Court also ruled that all criminal
trials are open to the press (except in
cases of national security)
Denial of Info
• Freedom of Information Act of 1966
(FOIA) requires that info be released to
the public
Requiring the Press to Disclose
• Qualified privilege –
• Only about half the states have passed
“shield laws” that give journalists this right
Freedom of the Press:
Key Court Cases
• Near v. Minnesota (1929)
Minute sheet from the
trial of John Peter Zenger
Freedom of the Press:
Key Court Cases (continued)
• New York Times v. Sullivan (1963)
• New York Times v. U.S. (1970): “Pentagon Papers”
• Sheppard v. Maxwell (1965)
Freedom of the Press:
Confidentiality of Sources
• Reporters hold source confidentiality as essential to the
existence of a free press
• Sources more likely to come forward if kept anonymous
Supreme Court cases:
• Branzburg v. Hayes (1971)
Discussion Questions
1. Discuss how the printing press revolutionized the spread of
information. What kinds of changes did it make in how people
learned and what they could do with information?
2. Describe how the media serves as a “fourth branch” of
government and review the benefits of a free press.