Freedom of the Press Essay Contest winner – High school category

  • Tuesday, August 26, 2014

From the earliest days of American history, the press has served as a vehicle for ideas, for news, for debate, and even for gossip. The American Revolution itself was built upon publications such as Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” just as much as it was built upon the fiery oratory of Patrick Henry, or the leadership of General Washington. Circulatory letters and weekly newspapers were a colonist’s connection to issues bigger than himself, allowing his mind to ponder issues such taxation and tyranny. In this way, the seeds of rebellion were sown through media. Therefore it is no surprise that our founding fathers decided to include freedom of the press in the First Amendment. They wrote “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press.” But these 11 words leave room for debate. How far can the press (media) infringe upon a person’s rights? Does it matter whether or not the person is a public figure? And can the media deliberately tell lies, or act as an agent of a political party while proclaiming neutrality?

All citizens of the U.S. have the right to privacy, to live with minimal government oversight. To this end, how far should the media be allowed to invade a person’s privacy rights? Simply put, if the citizen is a private party or not in the public eye, the media should not be allowed to transgress his/her rights at all without direct consent. The media’s freedoms go insofar as they do not begin to affect the rights of others. But what about the privacy rights of a public figure? In intentionally bringing attention to themselves, public figures have sacrificed key privacy rights and opened up lanes which media can and will use to discover more about them. This leads to further problems where the media wanders toward the grey area of libel and slander; however, such claims can be deflected with phrases like “anonymous source.” A lie in the media might be easy to uncover, but he who told the lie is almost impossible to find. But lies are not the only thorn in any public figure’s side. Intense focus and analysis of past actions can sway opinion against him/her. This concept is especially important regarding TV news networks and political figures. While many networks claim to be fair or balanced, even the shortest investigation would uncover that CNN’s intense debate over the morality of the Iraq War 10 years on and Fox News’ extensive two-year coverage of the Benghazi attacks are not exactly bipartisan.

I believe that the current state of the media and freedom of the press is healthy. With the emergence of grassroots news sites, any person in the U.S. can find a varied spring of information and trust that it is not censored by the government. It is right for those in power to think twice before doing something wrong for fear of the media, and Americans should work to maintain this environment for many generations to come.

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