“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.” US Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, in his concurrance to the majority decision in favor of the New York Times in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

Tomorrow, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day. The theme for this year is Information as a Public Good.

The UN set aside World Press Freedom Day to:

“… acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to:

  • celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Here in the US, a press free from governmental interference is enshrined in our constitution by way of the First Amendment.  Our 2nd president, Thomas Jefferson, who had an extremely difficult relationship with the press as president, still wrote in 1804:

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Although we seem to have entered an Orwellian time in the US in which any media that doesn’t spin the news a particular way is considered, at best, biased, at worst, outright tools of those that want to destroy ‘us’; a dangerous time where that kind of rhetoric has, in fact, led to attacks on members of the press, it is still true that journalists in the US are still far safer here than they are in many other countries – where they are routinely jailed, or killed, for attempting to report the truth. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the United States never gets to that point. To borrow a line from Albert Camus:

“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”

Featured image borrowed from UNESCO