THE PRESS AND THE LAW
Here arises the necessity for the freedom of the Press, which is the happiest Organ of communication ever yet devised, the quickest & surest means of conveying intelligence to the human Mind.
-- Richard Henry Lee to Edmund Pendleton, Virginia, May 26, 1788
The core issues surrounding freedom of the press in the United States have remained essentially the same for more than two centuries. Now, as cyberspace becomes the newest form of distribution for information of all kinds -- public and private -- the questions asked by the Founders resonate even more urgently. Some cyberspace analysts suggest that the process should begin with a "magna carta" for the electronic community.
Can the press and other media be free if they are owned by partisan proprietors, influenced by advertisers, and generally devoted to profit? Can they be free if they are regulated in any significant manner by the government beyond obedience to the existing laws of the land? Can the people count on the press to tell the truth about public matters so that the democratic process will be based on reliable and accurate information?
To cope with the technological complexities of the modern media -- and the dramatic growth of electronic information systems anticipated in the coming years -- those who wish to protect and preserve freedom of expression in American life should look carefully at the seeds of a free press that were planted in colonial America and flowered thereafter as part of nation building.
The first step is to consider the historical record, which includes constitutional law. Such an account provides the foundation for understanding all that followed the Declaration of Independence, politically and economically, in that area of American free enterprise that has come to be called the media. As media forms diversify and proliferate, constructive discussion is needed on levels of competence, standards, ethics, and self-regulation if we