Freedom of the Press issues and topics
Although the First Amendment doesn’t mention freedom of access to
courtrooms, the Supreme Court has held that the public right to attend
criminal proceedings is implied.
Actual malice is the legal standard the Supreme Court uses to protect the
media in libel cases in determining when public officials or figures may
win damages in lawsuits.
Sometimes state autopsy laws conflict with religious objections to such
procedures, bringing into play First Amendment questions of religious
liberty. Public access to autopsy records of the government have also been
The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act increased fines for violating
indecency standards. First Amendment advocates are concerned about the
act’s chilling effect on speech.
Allowing cameras in courtrooms has stirred controversy and led to Supreme
Court decisions in First Amendment cases. The Court has allowed states to
experiment with this issue.
Censorship occurs when individuals or groups try to prevent others from
expressing themselves. Government censorship violates the freedoms of
speech and of the press.
Chilling effect is the concept of deterring First Amendment free speech and
association rights through laws or regulations that appear to target
The Supreme Court in 1971 ruled that the government cannot restrain in
advance the press from publishing classified documents under the First
The Communications Act of 1934 regulated television and radio. Broadcasters
have public obligations, which serve as a limit on their First Amendment
Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in an attempt to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit materials on the internet. It prohibited any individual from transmitting “obscene or indecent” messages to a recipient under 18 and outlawed the knowing display of “patently offensive” materials in a manner
Some courts recognize a reporters’ privilege to not reveal confidential
sources as a First Amendment right, but each jurisdiction varies in the
level of protection.
Civil contempt of court can be fixed by obeying court orders. Criminal
contempt involves violating the dignity of the court and is more likely to
raise First Amendment issues.
In the United States, courts have based decisions regarding slanderous or
libelous statements on the First Amendment rights of free speech and
freedom of the press.
The federal equal time rule requires broadcasters to treat political
candidates equally in terms of air time. Some see the rule as a violation
of First Amendment rights.
The fair report privilege is a state-law defense to defamation claims used
by journalists, although the level of protection may vary by state. Under
the privilege, a journalist is insulated from a defamation claim when he or
she publishes a defamatory comment that was part of official affairs of the
The fairness doctrine attempted to ensure that broadcast coverage of
controversial issues was fair. Many journalists opposed the policy as a
violation of the First Amendment.
False light invasion of privacy, portraying an individual unflatteringly in
words or pictures as someone that person is not, is not protected by the
Federal appellate courts have ruled that people have a First Amendment
right to film police interactions with citizens.
The Free Flow of Information Act would create a federal shield law to
protect reporters. Opponents of the law say the First Amendment does not
entitle press to special privileges.
The Freedom of Information Act was adopted on the principle that government
should be transparent. Citizens can hold government accountable through
First Amendment freedoms
Freedom of the press is a Constitutional guarantee contained in the First Amendment, which in turn is part of the Bill of Rights. This freedom protects the right to gather information and report it to others. While at the time of ratification in 1791, the free press clause addressed newspapers, it now applies to all forms
Gag orders on trial participants are often used to ensure fair trials. Gag
orders on the press must meet high standards set by the courts to avoid
The Government in the Sunshine Act requires meetings of bodies that govern
federal agencies to be open unless they fall under 10 exceptions in the law.
The FCC defines indecency in the broadcast industries and regulates the
content of television and radio broadcasts to prevent the airing of
The Court faces challenges in dealing with regulation of online speech
because of the internet’s unique ability to spread information quickly and
Libel and slander lawsuits can have a chilling effect on free speech. The
First Amendment rights of free speech and free press often clash with the
interests served by libel laws.
Critics of ownership concentration in the news media business say that it
threatens the marketplace of ideas and poses a threat to First Amendment
To promote diversity of ideas under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court
has sometimes allowed news media organizations to have exemptions to
Neutral reportage protects from libel claims media that accurately and
objectively report newsworthy charges against public figures as part of an
The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 allowed competing newspapers to
enter into a joint operating agreement in which they shared revenue but
kept separate editorial staffs.
Open meetings laws guarantee access by the public to meetings of governing
bodies. All states adopted such laws by 1976. Access to government meetings
is not required by the Constitution or First Amendment but are compatible
with the concept of an informed citizenry.
The First Amendment appears to provide a special right for the press,
however the Supreme Court has taken a narrow view of the “press clause” and
held that the press does not have greater rights than those accorded to the
public in general. Some scholars have criticized this viewpoint and argued
that the press role of keeping the public informed calls for a different
The Constitution framers were familiar with press licensing controls such
as England’s Printing Ordinance of 1643 when they decided to protect press
freedom in the First Amendment.
Prior restraint allows the government to review the content of printed
materials and prevent their publication. Prior restraint usually violates
the First Amendment.
To promote First Amendment freedom of speech, libel plaintiffs who are
public figures or officials must show a publisher acted with actual malice
to collect damages.
The Radio Act of 1912 for the first time gave the government control over
the broadcast spectrum, leading to First Amendment quandaries in later
The Radio Act of 1927 created a commission to license broadcasters.
Underlying the act was the assumption that radio was expression protected
by the First Amendment.
The idea behind reporter’s privilege is that journalists have a limited
First Amendment right not to be forced to reveal a confidential source or
information in court.
Many states have adopted retraction statutes that allow the press to reduce
liability if they publish a correction within a certain time period.
Because defamatory statements are not considered protected under the First
Amendment, retraction help mitigate potential damages from an editorial
Although recognized in Europe, the right to be forgotten — forcing removal
of embarrassing information about an individual from the Internet — would
violate the First Amendment.
The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the right to receive
information and ideas flows from the First Amendment protection of free
The FCC’s right to respond and reply allowed those criticized on radio and
TV broadcasts time to share their viewpoint on air to foster First
Amendment diversity of viewpoints.
Cases involving the First Amendment and seditious libel, statements
intended to provoke dissatisfaction with the government, arose during
several eras in American history.
Although the Supreme Court hasn’t recognized a First Amendment privilege
for journalists to refuse to reveal their sources to a grand jury, most
states have enacted shield laws.
Newspaper taxation controversies that have emerged since the writing of the
First Amendment have largely focused on taxation used to penalize certain
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 significantly altered federal
communications policy. Parts of the Act have been struck down for violating
the First Amendment.
The First Amendment-related issue of whistleblowing, exposing illegal
conduct that violates norms of accountability, has been protected by
federal and state law.