Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach

By Christopher Meyers | Go to book overview

PART II
History and Justification

Introduction

Quick, name all the businesses that have explicit U.S. Constitutional protection. It’s a pretty short list: “the press.”

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….

Simple words and powerful—unique—protections, both of which the courts have been trying to interpret for the last two hundred-plus years. Just what does it mean to have a free press, and how far should the protections extend? For example, while they have been expanded to include publishing generally, including the Internet, such protections do not extend to other news media. The courts long ago determined that because television and radio rely on limited publicly owned airspace, their activities are regulated by the federal government. Broadcast stations are required to have a federally granted license to operate, one that must be periodically renewed and that, in theory at least, can be withheld if the station does not meet its public-service requirements. Try to imagine the uproar if the government attempted to impose a public-service duty upon newspapers, let alone insisted upon licensing.

While persons in the United States take these press protections for granted, they are in fact extraordinary—rare among nations, both contemporary and historical. They are also a pretty good deal for newspapers. You could start a newspaper tomorrow that prints nothing but hourly updates on, say, Lindsay Lohan, and the Constitution would prevent the government from interfering in or regulating your activities.1 Surely such tripe isn’t what the Founders had in mind when they penned the Bill of Rights. They envisioned soaring ideas,

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