The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for the national media. From Anthony Weiner’s sexting, to the atrocities revealed during the ongoing Casey Anthony trial, to the release of 24,000 emails written by former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, the news stream has been overflowing. This has led many to the conclusion that the media often oversteps legal and ethical bounds in order to get some juicy gossip.
According to a study cited in a 2005 USA Today article entitled “U.S. students say press freedoms go too far,” one in three high school students in the United States believe that the press should be more restricted, and 36 percent of students believe the government should approve newspaper articles before they are published.
The media may have its vices, but adding more restrictions to the press and requiring the government to approve coverage would be catastrophic to the entire foundation of the media in many ways.
When the nation was founded, too much government control was one of the main fears of the citizens. After being subjected to countless regulations and taxes imposed by King George III, Americans wanted a safeguard against excessive governmental interference in private life. Freedom of press, one of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, ensured that people may publish their opinions and distribute the media as they please.
But the importance of the media goes much further than just being a right that people may use if they wish. Newspaper, radio, magazines, movies, music and television shows are the average Joe’s method of retaining information to make crucial decisions. It fulfills the public’s right to be informed.
For example, during the 1990s, former President Bill Clinton was involved in an extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky that led to his eventual impeachment. Every headline in the country was about the president’s infidelity and almost every form of media was involved in the coverage of one of the greatest scandals in U.S. history.
As voters and taxpayers, people should have the right to know the actions and characters of their representatives and information about public activities should be made accessible. According to the Human Rights Education Associates, the United Nations adopted this philosophy in its first session in 1946 by passing resolution 59 (I) which states, “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and…the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.”
The media is the only stream of information that can connect to a large number of people and therefore should be under few restrictions in order to fulfill its function.
Many people who are under the illusion that the press goes too far fail to realize the importance of the digging and the prying those reporters do to inform the public. If reporters did not have First Amendment protections and the government had to approve public news before it was published, there would be no accountability for the government. The public would know only what the government wanted us to know, a dangerous situation that can be seen doing its damage in countries like North Korea, China and Iran. As a watchdog against the government, the media is a form of protection against the abuse of power and influence.
There are already restrictions that prevent the press from committing ethical crimes, such as anti-slander and anti-libel laws, which ensure that the truth is published. Privacy is protected, however if there are newsworthy incidents of which the public has the right to be informed, the press should be able to publish without fear of restrictions.
Though readers get exasperated from reading about the countless lies and scandals, the media’s power is the only way to hold public figures accountable for their actions. Without loosely-restricted press, we would not be able to counterbalance the enormous and sometimes unjustified amount of influence that prominent celebrities have.
We should feel blessed that America has rights that are enjoyed by so few in the world and realize that putting too many restrictions on the media is dangerous to democracy. In this case, no news is definitely not good news.
Andy Rao is a sophomore in finance and accounting. Please send comments to [email protected]