Our pre­cious free­doms

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - George Reed Jr. An his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive

colonist’s re­volt and their strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence. As a re­sult, in 1791 our found­ing fa­thers felt com­pelled to ex­tend and pro­tect those rights with the First Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment guar­an­tee­ing free­dom of speech, re­li­gion and the press.

Thomas Jef­fer­son is said to have re­marked that he would pre­fer hav­ing news­pa­pers with­out a coun­try than a coun­try with­out news­pa­pers. A lit­tle ex­treme, that state­ment nev­er­the­less makes the point that an in­formed cit­i­zenry is vi­tal to our coun­try’s wel­fare.

The Alien and Sedi­tion Acts of 1798 made it a crime to crit­i­cize cer­tain gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and their ac­tions. But this statute was even­tu­ally de­clared unconstitutional and con­trib­uted to the Fed­er­al­ist Party’s ul­ti­mate demise. Sim­i­lar laws were en­acted dur­ing both World Wars, but sev­eral court de­ci­sions re­in­forced le­gal pro­tec­tions for the press. In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled that the gov­ern­ment could not use “vague na­tional se­cu­rity pro­nounce­ments” to cen­sor cer­tain news leaks that were prob­a­bly more em­bar­rass­ing and con­tro­ver­sial than se­cu­rity-sen­si­tive.

Free­dom House, an in­de­pen­dent watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion, ranks the United States 30th out of 197 coun­tries in press free­dom. And the U.S. ranked 46th in the Re­porters With­out Borders Press Free­dom In­dex, which mon­i­tors gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship. Fin­land and Nor­way tied for first place, Canada ranked 10th , Ger­many tied with Ja­maica for 17th and Ja­pan tied with Suri­nam for 22nd. Con­trary to what some might think, the world’s old­est democ­racy has no fran­chise on con­sti­tu­tional free­doms in to­day’s world.

The big deal with the present ad­min­is­tra­tion is to la­bel any­thing with which it dis­agrees as “fake news.” But this is more of an in­sult than a threat to our free­doms. In a vir­tu­ally un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion where all three branches of the gov­ern­ment are con­trolled by the same party, in­de­pen­dence and pro­tec­tion of the press is dou­bly vi­tal to the pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion of our lib­er­ties. To­day a free and in­de­pen­dent me­dia is of­ten our only re­li­able watch­dog.

Trevor Timm con­cludes, “We want to raise the aware­ness about how it’s not just the jour­nal­ists who are af­fected by the ero­sion of press free­dom rights, it’s re­ally the pub­lic that ul­ti­mately suf­fers. So, in some ways Trump has brought out the best in jour­nal­ism.”

We have the good for­tune in this area to have sev­eral in­de­pen­dent­minded pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing this one, that strive to print all sides of the is­sues free of ide­o­log­i­cal­lyin­spired cen­sor­ship. In to­day’s hy­per-par­ti­san en­vi­ron­ment we have in­deed a rare and priv­i­leged sit­u­a­tion.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@ bell­south.net.

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