Freedom of the Press:
The right of the press to circulate information and opinion without censorship by the government.
While watching coverage of this week’s Republican National Convention, I switched between CNN, ABC, FOX-News, CBS and others. I read news articles online and in print, and watched live streaming from different sources online.
And I was struck by how one event could be seen so differently by so many news organizations — nearly all of which had a clear slant, whether for or against.
Our founding fathers made Freedom of the Press part of the Constitution’s First Amendment because, in the words of its principle author James Madison:
“We have no Facebook yet.”
And because I’m a journalist, you can trust me on that.
When our forefathers included Freedom of the Press in the Constitution, they knew it was a two-edged sword with as much potential to do harm as it could to ensure the exchange of factual communication free from governmental interference. However, they knew it was a risk that needed to be taken if America was going to have a chance at establishing a peaceful democracy — one that is protected by the intellect of an informed society.
As I said, this was before Facebook.
One of the key ingredients to a foundation strong enough to support the weight of democracy within our Constitution is the freedom given to the press. Its intention is to guarantee a level of transparency within the government and, just as importantly, keep government from manipulating the information its citizenry receives.
Shortly after the Missouri School of Journalism was established in 1906, it’s founder, Walter Williams, wrote The Journalist’s Creed.
Within it are these words:
I believe that clear thinking, truthful statements, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism, and that the supreme test of any journalist is the measure of their public service.
Journalists are liaison of trust between the American people and those who govern, whether it be in Washington D.C., state government, a national corporation or with our local city officials. The trust we place in journalism is one of the cornerstones of maintaining a unified, peaceful society. Without that trust and belief that we are an informed people, the ensuing uncertainty is fertile ground for chaos, mistrust and division.
In a way, journalists are like Chris Harrison on “The Bachelorette:” We’re given the freedom to talk with and gather information from all sides. And ultimately it’s our job to let everyone know when we’re down to the final rose.
Today’s Information Age, thanks to the Internet and social media, has forged its own two-edged sword with the potential to do as much harm as good.
In the late 1950s, iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow recognized this same paradox. News reporting was being transformed from the purely word-driven medium of radio into a much more powerful visual medium of television.
Murrow recognized that news journalism would never be the same.
He also recognized the responsibility that accompanies that kind of power.
In 1955, during an awards dinner where he was the keynote speaker, Murrow spoke of the new television medium and the paradox it presented for journalists and our society; it’s a paradox we find ourselves facing once again in the age of social-media-style journalism.
I’m going to close with a clip from the Oscar-winning film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” when Murrow, portrayed by David Strathairn, expresses his concern about the new medium of television broadcasting.
I think you’ll agree his words from more than 60 years ago, in context of social-media journalism, are just as poignant today…
(I hope you’ll join me for #OurWeekOfPeace at The Public Blogger Aug. 1-7