The meaning of Freedom of the Press

I’ve been reading about the Bill of Rights lately and it’s making me think about the meaning of the various rights.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are both included in the First Amendment. But as a practical matter, freedom of the press has historically been treating as a subset of freedom of speech. There are no essential rights which are distinctly granted by freedom of the press that aren’t already granted by freedom of speech. Publishing a newspaper or book or broadcasting a report on radio or television is essentially just seen as a form of speech.

I wondering if that’s the best interpretation of the idea of freedom of the press. To me, the press should be something distinct from speech. The ideal should be a press which is free to report accurate information. We’ve got the broadcasting end covered but what about the information gathering end?

A press which is allowed to publish anything but which is denied information is not a free press. If the government is withholding information then the government is limiting the press. So I feel that a full freedom of the press should not only cover the freedom to publish and broadcast. A full freedom of the press should also guarantee access to information about the government so that the press has something meaningful to publish or broadcast.

What do other people think? Should freedom of information and government transparency be seen as constitutional rights? I accept that there has to be some limits, in the same way that there are some limits on other First Amendment rights. But I think any government restriction on access to information should be at least challengeable on Freedom of the Press grounds.

Nuclear codes? Classified material? Social Security numbers for government employees? Cell phone numbers? Extra wide brushes with which to paint?

Traditionally in democracies the media is the 4th Estate, but GWB proved the US press isn’t free - it/the owners uniformly cowered when faced with exclusion during the Iraq rush for war.

I totally agree. There should be exceptions. If we’re landing in Normandy on June 6, no reporting that on June 5. But outside of matters related to national security and criminal investigation, the government has no justification for hiding anything. Anything that the press wants to know, they should get to see.

That’s certainly not the way it is right now. For example, the IRS is fighting to prevent the public from learning the truth about how it decides which churches to harass: Exposed: The IRS Won't Explain How it Audits Churches | The National Interest

Seems like there could be something there that they don’t want us to know.

Seems that ongoing investigations should be kept secret, for the same reason as the D-Day invasion. For one thing, it could badly hurt the reputation of the organization being investigated.

“Sub judice” is a classic reason for newsies to “cover up” hot information.

If your church were being investigated for tax evasion, and later it turned out they were not doing anything wrong, would the church fathers welcome the news coverage? Page one, “Church investigated for Tax Fraud!” Page 54, under the tire ads, “Church exonerated in Tax Fraud investigation.”

(They say that any publicity is good publicity…but they say a lot of dumb stuff.)

Of course not. As I said, there should be some limits just as there are limits to other constitutional rights. Freedom of religion doesn’t allow human sacrifice for example.

But suppose the government decided it didn’t want any negative stories about government spending so it decided it wouldn’t release budget figures. The size of the budget is obviously information that’s valuable to the public but there’s nothing which compels the government to release it.

Yes, there is. The First Amendment. If the government won’t release the numbers, it’s up to the press to dig, find those numbers, and release them. And there is always someone in government, either through sense of duty and altruistic motives, or just outright spite, who will help the media. Yes, there would be subsequent court cases, and as there as been in the past, courts have sided with the disclosures in the public interest.

I’m sure Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, and Eric Snowden will all be surprised to hear this.

… and even Edward Snowden, the well known American hero/traitor.

All Freedom of the Press is is the right to use methods of mass transmission to broadcast speech, and every American has it. You don’t have to be a journalist. As you pointed out, it’s just a subset of free speech, so you have just as much freedom of the press as Fox News or CBS. In fact, by posting to this board, you are exercising freedom of the press, since this is a medium by which to reach hundreds of readers.

Sure there is: Article I, section 9: