freedom of the press

(Heartland Newsfeed) — It seems everywhere I turn around, government as a whole have tried repeatedly to interfere and infringe on the Constitutional rights of a free press. Governments are not fulfilling FOIA requests. They are also withholding pertinent information from meetings, a clear sign of internal corruption and/or incompetent politicians.

The press corps are the Fourth Estate, essentially the fourth branch of government. We are essentially the governmental watchdogs for the people, holding politicians accountable and governmental bodies accountable for their corruption.

Lately, with all of the incidents surrounding police brutality and the ever-increasing growth of the whistleblower movement, the government likes to keep information under wraps and neither understand nor wish to understand their infractions against the First Amendment.

Allow me to re-educate them on what the First Amendment spells out:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There is no right of any governmental body to prohibit or abridge the rights of a free press. However, there are some governmental institutions and local print media outlets in Illinois who are skewing the definition of news media and how it can be defined while trying to uphold the fundamental rights found in the First Amendment. These definitions are inherently flawed, citing content or viewpoint-based denials of access.

Words do have meaning, and that has been recently stated via a decision made in the California Court of Appeals (CCA), with a defined description of what constitutes a free press or simply press. A petition to dismiss a website as not media and their writers not journalists made its way through the Superior Court of Santa Clara County in 2006 against website owner Jason O’Grady dismissing his website as not news.

O’Grady appealed the decision before CCA (O’Grady v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, et al) and the Court cited the following regarding the state’s “Shield Law“:

[The Shield Law is] intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news. We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish “legitimate” from “illegitimate” news. Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment.

The last sentence of that court decision is the most telling of all.

Another determination was decided before the U.S. Supreme Court last year in Matal v. Tam:

The idea that government may restrict speech expressing ideas that offend…strikes at the heart of the First Amendment…the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hateA law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an ‘egregious form of content discrimination’ which is ‘presumptively unconstitutional’.

The early newspapers of yesteryear spoke often regarding controversial subjects. The abolitionist newspaper “The Liberator” can be considered an excellent example, citing the first editorial “To the Public” published in January 1831, citing of the language he utilized:

I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

We, as a member of the press corps, strive daily to demand accountability in government, regularly exercise our role in media as the people’s watchdog of government and refuse to abide by the culture of silence that plagues us all.

In our time online, we’ve strived for the best governmental investigative journalism possible, using the Edgar County Watchdogs as a guide on how to do it properly and will continue to do so, whether the governmental body is cooperative with requests from the press or not.

Jake Leonard is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed and GM/program director of the Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network. Leonard is also general manager of Heartland Internet Media Networks and an active contributor to four newspapers for Pana News Group.

more recommended stories