Freedom of the Press or simply freedom of media is a principle that communication and expression of opinion through different forms of media, including print, radio, digital forms, should have the right to express opinions openly and freely.
Freedom of Press is a much-debated topic. There is a fine line between “the state” influencing the media and the “media” having the freedom to express their views on matters of national or even international interest.
Sweden was the first country in the world to adopt freedom of the Press into its constitution with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Governments, especially in third world countries, are known to limit Freedom of Press for a multitude of reasons.
Why is Freedom of Press Important?
The Press acts as a medium of communication between people and the government they have elected. Freedom of Press is important to highlight various issues in governance and disseminate necessary information about the government’s developmental work.
Citizens receive information about new policy updates, developmental projects, updates to laws, and various amendments through Press. These publications make the working of the government smooth and enable citizens to understand whether these actions are beneficial to the larger public or some vested interests.
Should Freedom of Press be Limited?
As you might know, freedom of Press is established in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, stating that the “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the Press.”
The Supreme Court broadened the scope of the First Amendment to protect the freedoms of speech and press from censorship by any government entity to keep the Press independent and transparent.
That being said, the Supreme Court also acknowledged and recognized some specific situations in which the government can limit the freedom of the Press.
Different media publications have different political, religious or sometimes even ethnic inclinations, so news published on these different media can depict different versions of the same incident while being partially correct.
Governments around the world have taken the necessary steps to limit freedom of Press for certain types of news, which are detailed below.
What are Limitations to Freedom of Press?
Different laws have different limitations when it comes to freedom of Press, and in the United States, any material that is considered offensive to the average citizen “contemporary community standards” and have no redeeming “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” can be excluded from freedom of Press.
Any material that is designed or can potentially incite immediate violence or unlawful activity will be excluded from the freedom of the Press.
Similarly, in the UK, there are different laws for limitations on freedom of Press.
Contempt of Court – You cannot interfere with an accused’s right to get a fair trial.
Libel – Publishers cannot print or distribute a story that they know isn’t true.
Hate speech – Publishers and media organizations cannot have a newspaper inciting violence against minorities, or majorities.
Freedom of Press the Yearly Report by Freedom House
Freedom of the Press is a yearly report by US-based non-profit organization Freedom House. This report measures the levels of freedom and editorial independence that the press of different countries enjoy around the world.
Freedom of Press in the Digital Age
In this digital age, freedom of Press is often considered a gray area because almost anyone can create false or fake news to influence digital media. Even though large social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have put fact-checking and moderation in place, it is not often very effective.
Digitally, freedom of Press is often misused as small independent creators or publishers publish news and misleading articles to get shares and drive more traffic to websites for advertising revenue.
As readers or digital media consumers, we have to ensure we consume news and media information from trusted sources and not share with other unverified news.
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