In our nation, there are people in the highest positions in government who have developed a habit of vilifying the news media, encouraging others to condemn any news that does not mesh with their political viewpoint.
That is dangerous territory in a free society.
Of all of the amendments to our U.S. Constitution, it is the First Amendment that gives the broadest rights to all people. We have the right to worship as we please, to say what we wish, to peacefully gather in groups of our choosing and to go to the government to ask for grievances to be addressed. But the most important right in the First Amendment is the freedom of the press.
I say the freedom of the press is the most important because the news media is the entity that covers government meetings and decisions, asks the difficult questions and reports their findings to the public. In their editorial page or commentaries, the journalists use their experience to comment on governmental happenings and to make a call for action to citizens. There is also the ability for average citizens to state their opinions.
Anyone with knowledge of the history of humans on our planet knows that this ability to exchange news and to challenge the government is both unprecedented in human history and a vital part of a free society.
In this context, a free press is often referred to as the fourth estate – the First Amendment’s addition to the checks and balances provided by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
Understanding the role of the news media as a vital part of the government’s checks and balances is important in our society.
It means that the press is often the adversary of government. It does not mean that they are always openly combative with government. It means that a news reporter is listening and is analyzing what is being said during governmental meetings. They have to ask the tough questions. Why is government proposing a law? Why is that law being enforced in this manner? What is the interpretation of this law? Is anyone overstepping their authority? Why are some people behaving badly in their governmental roles? Why is more tax money needed? What should be done to correct things?
But somehow, somewhere, this concept is being lost. A free press is a vital part of society. It is not designed to be a public relations firm to support all aspects of a certain point of view. In fact, their only point of view should be to set their moral compass to look for what government is doing or should do to best serve the average person.
Good journalism gives us information about our community. Great journalism challenges us to think and take action.
As citizens in a free society, we must learn to look critically at our sources of information, whether is comes from public officials or from the press.
We don’t always like what we read or hear, but we must defend the freedom of the press.