UNITED STATES, Miami (Internews).- The concept of a free press was written into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It was of fundamental importance then, and now. It confirms the importance of a “fourth branch of government” to talk truth to the power positions of the other three branches. Otherwise, they run the risk of believing their own nonsense, and the concept of a democratic system of government begins to weaken and ultimately wither away.
Today, the President Trump’s repeated criticisms of the press, his humiliating of journalists, his emphasis on “fake news”, his attacks on the press as the “enemy of the people,” his undervaluing of the press’s importance in a democracy, are signs of danger to our freedom. Now, the press must be even more careful about its fact base, scrupulous in its commitment to fact-based journalism, and mark clearly that which is fact from that which is opinion.
There is a reason that the First Amendment is first. And that Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” A free press brings to light and disseminates the information that informs the electorate and holds powerful people and institutions accountable. It shows where society’s problems are, even when some might prefer to look away. It is the first-line defense of free speech for everybody. Of course, journalism has its shares of flaws and problems, like any human endeavor, but the Washington Post is right: Democracy dies in darkness.
In many foreign, government censorship and intimidation are the leading dangers to press freedom. In the United States, fortunately, censorship is not an option (thanks to the Constitution) and intimidation does not seem to be working (President Trump’s rhetorical attacks on the media seem, if anything, to have rallied support behind the outlets he threatens).
Here at home, there are a aspect worry: the cratering of public confidence in mainstream journalism, a phenomenon caused in large part by four decades’ worth of relentless media-bashing by politicians and activists who have agendas of their own. Fostering antagonism toward the media diminishes support for press freedom and, what is just as worrisome, fuels public cynicism about the very possibility of journalistic integrity.