Is Our Freedom of Press in Danger?

By Alessandra Colella

There has been much buzz regarding the possible change to one of America’s most important freedoms: the freedom of the press. The freedom of the press allows for journalists to report on news, while expressing their unique and diverse opinions. This right is rooted in the first amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Unfortunately, not all countries extend this seemingly undeniable right to their citizens. North Korea and China, for example, practice censorship, forcing all media, videos, and books to be reviewed by the government. For this reason, the freedoms expressed in the first amendment are a keystone of America’s democracy. Currently, however, this right may be under siege by Donald Trump’s administration.

In our democracy, there are some ways that the freedoms of the press can be limited. One such way is libel, or when something that is published is untrue and is capable of damaging one’s reputation. If a published work is classified as libel, it has the potential to be reviewed in court. However, reporters are also protected by something called “actual malice.” This is the standard of proof needed for a libel lawsuit. Actual malice describes that the reporter exercised “knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.” For this reason, the debate over whether news was fake, untrue, misclassified or simply exaggerated enters gray area; after all, who decides whether the author knowingly exercised libel? With the new administration in Washington, it is possible that the fate of the press will change.

President Trump has been known to have conflict with the press even prior to the election. Once assuming office, this trend has continued and conflict has seemed to persist. Liberal newspapers including CNN, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and others have been called “FAKE NEWS” by the Trump administration. These media platforms may appear to have bias against the president. While understanding that these newspapers are credible, President Trump feels they constantly publish bad stories about him. Words have been used to describe the media such as “fake,” “dishonest,” “evil,” and “the enemy of the people.”

Conflict persists, but will anything really be changing?

This remains unknown. One year ago, before being elected into office, President Trump said that he wanted to “open up the libel laws.” Opening up libel laws allows the burden of proof in a libel case to be met easier, which results in people having an easier time suing the media. However, there is no federal libel law. Instead, libel is regulated by state governments making the law a hard one to change. There is also a question as to whether reporters will be banned from the White House. President Trump claims that since there are so many people who want to be at the press conferences, his administration has to selectively choose who will be allowed in. If this policy was fully implemented, it could limit the amount of liberal reporters being allowed into these press conferences and worse, result in one-sided reports, eliminating the diverse points of view.

As of now, nothing has legitimately been changed in regards to the first amendment allowing freedom of press. If anything were to change, what would this mean for The Oracle?

Our paper is comprised of a large demographic of reporters, including people of differing grades, opinions, styles of reporting, and perspectives. Our paper mainly focuses on school based stories and spotlights on student and clubs; moreover, as a paper, we do not exercise slander or ever malign BHHS. As young reporters, it is difficult to hear that the profession we may be interested in and the area we are passionate about is comprised of “the most dishonest human beings on earth,” according to President Trump.

Despite the current rift between Washington and the press, we will continue to uphold the integrity of our paper. Freedom in the United States allows for citizens to express their opinions and thoughts, and newspapers allow for the publication of these ideas through the perspectives of various people. In the words of Thomas Jefferson,Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” If we were to have our freedom of the press threatened, how much freedom would we really have?