Our precious freedoms
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.