Freedom of the Press Essay Contest runner-up: High school category

  • Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“The Importance of Press Freedom”

by Devyn J. White

In 1791, three years after the Constitution was ratified, the first amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress. Included in it is a vital passage, which declares that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press.” This one clause is absolutely essential to the liberty of an individual. However, there have been many who denied this right to the American public, and their actions have badly affected citizens. Those who uphold the Constitution should always speak out against aggressions toward the free press, because there are several consequences of not doing so.

Two great persons, though not Americans themselves, provided excellent reasons to support press freedom. The first was stated by the English poet John Milton, near the time of the English Civil War. In a convincing letter, he said that forming opinions as free citizens involves gathering information, and a free press makes this information available to the people. The second reason was shown in the 19th century by an English philosopher named John Stuart Mill. He believed that by silencing one viewpoint by a controlled press, it is probable that the truth could be concealed from the public.

However, to the dismay of Americans everywhere, actions contrary to the first amendment were directed specifically against the freedom of the press. One prominent assault occurred in 1798, when President Adams and Congress passed the Sedition Act. This made it lawful to penalize those who spoke against the government, regardless of whether the truth was spoken or not. Thomas Jefferson later wrote against this issue, “I know not which mortifies me most, that I should fear to write what I think, or my country bear such a state of things.” Many supporters of the free press hated this act, and they were thankful when it expired on March 3, 1801.

If citizens allow the press to be controlled by the government, a number of consequences arise. They will not gain access to the information they need to form opinions, because only viewpoints supporting the government will be mentioned. Those who oppose it will have a nearly impossible chance of expressing their own ideas, even if they are stating facts. Furthermore, voters will have a limited ability to know which candidates to elect for government positions, because the press would only favor those who share their opinions.

The freedom of the press is a great gift which everyone in this nation should cherish. By increasing personal liberty, its benefits have largely influenced the American society. Although abuses may be made against this freedom, the opposition of several good Americans, who care for their Constitutional rights, will stop them. Finally, by understanding the consequences that could arise from a controlled press, citizens should remember that America is truly a great nation and that press freedom has helped make it so.

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