“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” Walter Cronkite (WACC, 2020). Press freedom requires a press free of government interference, free of corporate bias, and free to challenge and dispute. It requires candid journalism, investigative journalism that tells it like it is, and day-to-day reporting that is fair and balanced. Press is the medium that conveys the truth to people.
The idea that the press should be granted some form of freedom only emerged after the press became commonplace. The invention of mechanized printing in the 15th century led to the proliferation of books, newspapers, and other publications that spread ideas faster and farther than ever before. Publications have the potential of spreading ideas and information, eventually changing people. These ideas spread through publications and could challenge the power structures in place, including political and religious authorities that had autonomy in decision making. These authorities had to curtail these publications that they deemed subversive.
Americans enjoy the freedom of the press as one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press, was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights (History, 2018).
In the history of free press, before the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain, the British government would censor the American press to prevent them from spreading or publishing unfavorable information against them. American free press ideals can be traced back to Cato’s Letters, a collection of essays criticizing the British political system that were published widely across pre-Revolutionary America.
The state of Virginia was the first to formally protect the press in 1776. The 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights stated, “The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments. (History, 2018)”. The Virginia representative and later president James Madison would borrow from that declaration when drafting the First Amendment.
The annual World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the Reporters Without Borders campaign group, surveys that the top ten countries with the best conditions for journalism and reporting in 2020 are: Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Portugal respectively. The bottom ten are Cuba, Laos, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Djibouti, China, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and lastly North Korea (Power, 2020). The United States ranked 37 of 199 countries.
Reporters Without Borders ranks countries based on the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and netizens have in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect this freedom. It does not measure the quality of journalism in the countries it assesses, nor does it look at human rights violations in general.
World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is an annual celebration of press freedom, observed on 3 May, and whose main celebration is organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This day is commemorated annually to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics as well as to support media professionals, who are the targets of the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom.
The WFPD theme for 2022 is ‘Journalism Under Digital Siege.’ The goal is to underline the role of the information in an online media environment by focussing on the following; the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, access to information, and privacy (Ryan, 2022).
The media is a very powerful tool, they have the power to influence the views of a whole public. Freedom of the press is important for keeping people informed. A free press monitors the administration and forces them to work for the betterment of the country.
ReferencesHistory. (2018, August 18). Freedom of the Press. Retrieved from History: The First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press, was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights.
Power, G. (2020, April 24). The best and worst countries for press freedom. Retrieved from The Week: https://www.theweek.co.uk/the-week-unwrapped/106717/the-best-and-worst-countries-for-press-freedom
Ryan, J. (2022, April 26). World Press Freedom Day 2022. Retrieved from UK Parliament: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cdp-2022-0088/
WACC. (2020, November 2). Democracy is freedom of the press. Retrieved from WACC: https://waccglobal.org/democracy-is-freedom-of-the-press/
Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.