THE FIRST AMENDMENT AT A GLANCE
“The protestors marched down University Avenue chanting racist slogans and carrying signs with powerful statements criticizing the Federal Government’s domestic policies on immigration. The march culminated in Berkeley Square where a handful of protestors set several flags ablaze and watched them burn while they screamed for the impeachment of the nation’s President. Riot police were assembled nearby, monitoring the protest. The crowd finally disbursed just after sunset. “
The above statement, although fictitious, illustrates in real terms, the umbrella of protection provided by the First Amendment of our Constitution. Within the text body our most critical freedoms are preserved as sacred: The freedom to assemble peacefully, protects our right to protest the actions of our government. The rights of author’s, and individuals to openly voice their views on any subject, without fear of derogatory legal consequences, permits even racist warmongers to publicize their controversial beliefs in writing or through megaphones. The spectrum of protection of the First Amendment is so broad-stroked, even desecration of our nation’s flag is permitted, despite several attempts to have this specific clause modified. This powerful amendment is perhaps the most important of all our public policies. It is the foundation, the cornerstone that defines our most basic freedoms – the blueprint which embodies our fundamental status as a democratic nation.
The journalist, whose job is to be the voice of the people, relies on the protection this amendment provides more than any other legal document in existence. The role of the journalist to accurately report unbiased information about biased or extreme individuals or groups demands that the writer be well informed about the laws protecting journalists and their industry. It is a subject of much controversy and debate. Internationally, journalists are put in jail for doing their job more than any other professional career. According to statistics dating from 2009, Iran has more journalists behind bars than any other, with 33 in jail, surpassing Cuba, with 24 and China, where 30 reporters are currently imprisoned
1 Given the tenuous international climate on this sensitive matter, journalists in America, protected by the First Amendment, should breathe a sigh of relief.
The role the journalist plays in accurately, and freely reporting the news without fear of censorship, is possible only in a tolerant democratic state. One could state that the two are symbiotic; each one relies on the other for existence. By design, they are co-dependent - freedom of speech, and democracy. Recently Iceland made headlines as the nation brainstormed to create an international haven for journalists, “designed to attract organizations into publishing online from Iceland, with the strongest press and source protection laws in the world.”
2 Sadly, what should be a no-brainer concerning freedom of speech and the journalist’s right to freely report the news regardless of how controversial the subject matter, has international human rights organizations (specifically Amnesty International) up in arms over the waning of journalistic freedoms on a global scale.
As a student of journalism at Brooks Institute, I am grateful for the advantage both my colleagues’ and I enjoy over countless numbers of writers and reporters worldwide. The privilege of learning in an environment tolerant of controversial opinions and lenient towards alternative political, religious and social ideologies is the fundamental concept of the American melting pot. The privilege of pursuing a career in journalism in a country founded on free speech and cultural tolerance is a blessing not to be taken for granted .
The First Amendment, established as an amendment to the Bill of Rights, and signed into legislation in 1784 is paramount testimony to the basic concepts of freedom each and every citizen deserves: Freedom to speak one’s mind freely without fear of censorship from any outside source, freedom to challenge authority or institutions. Freedom to expose corruption in government, or any political or corporate institution without fear of any backlash or loss of civil rights is society’s moral responsibility. The role of the journalist to “cover” an issue, (a story) properly is directly dependent on the writer having full access to all sides, all opinions, regardless of content, so that the end result is a story based on truth, not on lies fueled by propaganda filters. The task of accurately reporting any story is to be able to approach the subject wholeheartedly, without fear – since truth and freedom go hand in hand. Most importantly, the First Amendment guarantees that the government may not pass any law that infringes on any citizens’ right to freedom of expression, in whatever form – spoken sung, shouted, or scribed.