Freedom of the press is not absolute

04 Jan 2021 | 02:43

    It is not without facts that studies by media analysts, including but not limited to Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, overwhelmingly show that some candidates running for office not only have to run against declared candidates but also against some of the media - the Fourth Estate if you will. The legendary eighteenth century statesman/philosopher Sir Edmund Burke is alleged to have coined that term around the time of the American Revolution when the British Parliament was opened to the press for the first time.

    Written in the same era was the First Amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights which provides:

    Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...

    In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Constitution to all of the states.

    Freedom of the press case law reveals few “landmark” SCOTUS decisions for our first 150 years. As technology increased in the 20th century, there was a concurrent ability to more easily communicate, especially internationally. World wars increased the importance of various media yielding an increase in case law on freedom of the press.

    Today, freedom of the press is proscribed similarly to publicizing by/for the legal profession. In 1993, the Ninth Circuit Court held the legal profession’s right to freely print/publish their practice must be within “rules of professional conduct and ethical guidelines” of the American Bar Association. There is no similar responsible body for the media.

    Since 1909, The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has sought to protect freedom of the press and professional journalism. It has done well protecting journalism from external complaints. It has done much too little to protect journalism from weaknesses within, including unethical leadership.

    The Fourth Estate’s exercise of a “free press” would do the reading-public greater service if the SPJ would certify level(s) of professional practice as well as a procedure(s) whereby certified journalists across the media spectrum can be disciplined for unprofessional and unethical practice.

    Eskil S. Danielson