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Freedom of the Press

16. What is the “Freedom of Press” granted under the 1st Amendment?

The 1st Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the press.” Generally, it prohibits attempts by the government to curtail the freedom of expression through the public dissemination of information. More specifically, it prohibits any restraint prior to the publication of information, or “prior restraints”. Rather, protections of free press are commonly reduced after the publication of the information. That is, an individual or organization may be held liable subsequent to the publication of information, as the publication may run afoul of laws protecting the public (e.g., defamation).

•    Example: The local news channel may report on any matters of public interest pursuant to the freedom of the press. Limiting the content that the media may cover is a prior restraint and would abridge this freedom. Holding the new channel liable for intentionally defaming a person is a limitation on freedom of press that is generally constitutional.

•    Discussion: How do you feel about the freedom of press? Should it be broader of more limited? Why? Why do you think the law distinguishes between prior restraints and restraints after the fact?

•    Practice Question: Ernie has an Internet blog covering political issues that is becoming increasingly popular. Ernie’s state legislature passes a law that limits the ability to cover special interest group spending on lobbying activity. If Ernie challenges the law in court, what do you think will be the outcome?

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