Sunday, December 6, 2009

Freedom of the Press

Written in September 2009

Freedom of the press is considered one of the most essential rights Americans enjoy under the Constitution. The concept of freedom of the press dates back to the colonial era of America and is at times taken for granted by Americans. The internet has been one of the most important inventions in the history of the world. The internet has impacted about every era of human life as it has come to further and further prominence. Freedom of the press is one area that has been especially impacted by the area, as the internet has shaped a big impact on how the press and the freedoms of the press.

Freedom of the press in America is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment in the Constitution. Despite the guarantee in the constitution of press freedom there have been some famous attempts by the government to limit this freedom. The Sedition Act of 1798 and the Pentagon Papers were attempts by the government to limit press freedom. The advent of the internet age though has made it harder for the government to limit press freedom and has also made it easier for news to get out that otherwise would not be widely reported. Prior to the advent of the internet individuals didn’t have the ability to get their thoughts easily broadcasted to a wide audience. For example, one of the most controversial aspects of the internet press is the ease that racist groups can broadcast their message to people on the internet. This was one of the earliest attempts to see what can and can’t be published on the internet. The internet has democratized the flow of information and allows virtually anyone to broadcast their views to a wide audience that they otherwise would not be able to reach for the most part. At the same time as the internet has risen as a venue for people to get news, the mainstream media has consolidated more with each year. The last 20 years has seen a rise in media conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky/Fox network which has outlets in newspaper, local, national and international television. As Robert McChensey pointed out in a 2003 piece, the rise of media conglomerates has also led to a reduction of information that was once reported in the mainstream media. The best way to find out certain information has become to search it out on the internet. The information being presented by the mainstream media has become reduced to a certain few who can disseminate the news how they wish. One of the popular aspects of the internet is that it also affords a certain anonymity that is almost impossible to duplicate in other media forms. Bloggers until recently can publish whatever content they want without fearing their identities being revealed. The mini controversies over whether Barack Obama is a Muslim or whether he was even born in the United States started on the internet and grew large there before it was reported in the mainstream media later. While journalists in the mainstream media such as Christiane Amanpour have admitted that the networks had censored their coverage of the Iraq War, the internet was rife with criticism of President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War. With bloggers showing little self-censorship the internet is the place where people can find access to news and photos that the mainstream media has decided not to air. The mainstream media for the most part has agreed voluntarily not to air images of dead soldiers coffins being returned to America from the Iraq War. Bloggers and others on the internet have not followed this convention and show these images regardless.

In February 2008 one of the first major cases of internet censorship occurred in the United States when the website Wikileaks was temporarily shut down due to a lawsuit by Bank Julius Baer. The wikileaks website is well known for leaking government and business information. This temporary shutdown was soon met with protests by many different groups in favor wikileaks. On February 29, 2008 the judge who had ordered the site shut down removed his injunction against wikileaks. A major battle about internet press also broke out in 2009 when Google was forced by a court to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who was accused of defaming a model. The blogger who had her identity has planned a lawsuit against Google for revealing her identity. This case of Google revealing the identity of an anonymous blogger has far-reaching consequences beyond someone being called a name on an blog. This could also set a precedent of more regulation and control over the internet that currently does not exist so far.

The internet has changed and is changing the way how the press functions in this country. The internet is almost a frontier area in the area of freedom of speech as the battle to see what can and can’t be said on the internet. The next few years will certainly see more on the front of possible internet censorship.