Does Freedom of the Press Guarantee Freedom of Information?

An Essay by Guest Author, Lewis Ashcliffe (Bio Below)

(We encourage subscribers to submit their articles and thank Lew for his very astute article below. You can see Lew’s bio below and you can leave your comments here or contact him direct, if you wish.)

 

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: “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.”

 

When our Founding Fathers decided to construct a Constitution defining what our government was to be and how it was to run, one of the first things they did was to Amend that Constitution with the Bill of Rights. And top of that Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, deals with specific liberties which they felt were necessary to the establishment of a free and democratically run society. Of particular interest for this time is the “freedom of speech, press, and right to peaceably assemble.” Why do these stand out now, you ask? Because speech, press, and assembly were the only means, during the time of the writing of our Constitution, for the dissemination of information about the goings on of our newly fledged country.

 

The Founding Fathers were wise people who understood that for a Democratically elected government “of, by, and for the people” to succeed and remain a true free republic was for the people themselves to remain informed.

 

Unfortunately, times have changed, not for the better in this matter. The concept of “Assembly” in those days was largely town meetings where representatives to their government provided information for those in attendance, and took information back to the Congress from those they represented for the purpose of governing and law making.

 

The town hall meeting today does not occur everywhere in our country, and those that do have little effect on our Federal Government.

 

The biggest change, however, to our detriment has been the so-called Freedom of the Press. As early as the late 1800’s such newspaper tycoons as William Randolph Hearst, and later, William Loeb (Manchester Union Leader), decided to take upon themselves the aristocratic mantel of controlling what news was reported to the people to read, and how that news was slanted to effect how people would emotionally respond, and thereby influence their votes and their effects on legislation.

 

This trend has continued and worsened, with television news being most effected in recent years by the creation of Fox TV news network, by Rupert Murdoch, solely for news biased toward the politically conservative, with MSNBC to follow in the opposite bias toward the politically liberal. The biggest problem with TV news has become its use of vivid visual images to generate a desired emotional response by viewers, not necessarily genuine nor in proportion to the content itself. In short, the news organizations have become powerful influences on how the mass of our population think, act, and vote.

 

The rise of the internet and the rapid dissemination of information available online today has the potential to make informing the electorate a simple, straightforward process with minimal emotional impact. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the same powers controlling the TV media also control much of the internet news content as well.

 

Add to this the very human nature of people to seek out that news which supports their existing beliefs and preconceptions, regardless of political affiliation, and we have the current situation where there is little or no reliable source for genuine, neutrally biased information. Everyone has an agenda, every publisher chooses a stance.

 

A perfect example of this is the current presidential election in our country. Information is almost too available. It seems that a candidate is no longer entitled to a private thought or comment which is then thrown well out of proportion, spun by a media greedy for advertising dollars to gain maximum titillation and emotional response from the public. And all this so that the corporately owned media can press its own agenda and influence the outcome of our election. We, the people are pawns of this pseudo-information and we, predictably, over-react with a near mob frenzy of emotionalism.

 

Gone are the days of such high caliber news reporting as Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, or Dan Rather who understood the sacred duty of the news reporter to deliver a simple summary of information and issues, unvarnished, unbiased. This kind of reporting allows each individual to decide for him or herself how to best use and react to the information provided.

 

If our Constitutional Republic, based upon democratic principles, is to survive into the future, it will be necessary for the people whom it serves (we, the people) to make a decision to let go of trying to shore up our prejudices and preconceptions, and decide that the only path to survival comes from learning. And learning can only come when we are honest with ourselves, sincerely seek the truth about any given situation in our country, insist upon a press that serves that need, and a government that responds to our demands and needs. Can this be achieved? Only time will tell.

 

Your comments welcome.

 

Lew’s Bio:

Bio:Lewis Ashcliffe is a retired chiropractor with a long interest in natural health care and in politics and governmentalaffairs. He currently is self-employed as an eBay Store entrepreneur.  While admittedly a liberal, he also considers himself open to more conservative points of view, particularly in business and finance and tries to always consider all sides of an issue. For comments or furtherinformation, you may reach him via email: ashcliffelh@gmail.com, or through Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/lewis.ashcliffe. Leave a private message.”

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