Photograph: Kavli Foundation
By Joyce Early
To be successful as a journalist in the United States, one must first understand the historical context of American journalism and how it has evolved over the years. One must realize that the media industry did not have the practices and privileges that it has today without individuals demanding a guarantee of their basic rights.
Printing began in England in the 1700s, but there was no press freedom. Printers needed license to publish anything they wanted. Publishers dared not question the Royal family or government officials or write and publish anything deemed negative about the Family or government officials in England. If anyone did so, he/she was likely to be jailed.
In America, everything changed in the late 1700s when the notion that newspapers were free to publish took affirmative legal forms, with Virginia taking the lead. Virginia Commonwealth wrote its constitution in 1776, proclaiming that the "Freedom of the press" is one of the great bulwarks of liberty and must never be restrained.
After Virginia’s lead, followed other states in 1779. Later, the new federal government adopted the first ten Amendments to the nation's constitution. These historic Amendment were named "The Bill of Rights", a term coined by John Adams.
But what is the first Amendment about?
The First Amendments to the U.S constitution is what guarantees the freedom of the press in the United States. It stipulates that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievance".
The first Amendment consists of three separate clauses that guarantee not only press freedom, but freedom of religion, as well as the right of the people to assemble and petition their government. But as journalists, it is the clause about the press that is the most important: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press".
So, what is press freedom?
Press freedom means the news media (print and digital) must not be subject to censorship by the government. In other words, the government does not have the right to control or block certain things from being published by the press. Another term used in this context, which we talked about in my media law class is prior restraint.
Prior restraint means an attempt by the government to prevent the expression of ideas before they are published. Under the First Amendment, prior restraint is clearly unconstitutional, but unfortunately, other countries do not have this protection that guarantees the independence of the Press.
In the United States, we are privileged to have what is one of the freest Press in the world. In most parts of the world, journalists aren't that lucky. There are entire regions in which press freedom is severely curtailed or sometimes non-existent.
Recently I did a short independent study on journalism and freedom of the Press in Iran. I found out that the press freedom in Iran is limited. Although the country has an official clause in its constitution that is similar to the United States First Amendment, the Press is still subject to censorship. A special court has the authority to monitor the press, instead of the press having to monitor the activities of the government. The media is exclusively operated by the state. Journalists are not to question government decision or serve as watchdogs. The government engages in censoring anything divergent to the country's regulation. In fact, Iran had 48 journalists in prison, making it the third largest prison for media in the world.
For the most part, journalism is what every person, individual and society needs to exist. I have included another evidence from my JOR 115 course, in which I discussed the role of a journalist and what it means when people say that journalism is the lifeblood of democracy. I stated in that evidence that without journalists being there to monitor power, uncover injustices, sustaining communities, and telling compelling stories, the world would contain nothing, have none of the usual or appropriate content. The information journalists provide helps citizens become of what is happening.
Through reporting, monitoring, revealing and telling stories, journalism serves as a nervous system of the people and society. And America must continue to maintain the freedom of the Press.