Jim Zachary

Jim Zachary 

The press is uniquely protected by the First Amendment.

And, rightly so.

The freedom of the press is essential to American freedom.

When the founders contemplated the Bill of Rights, their intention was to guarantee individual rights for prosperity by preventing the federal government from ever abridging those basic liberties.

They reasoned that an unchecked federal government could quickly replace British tyranny with a new brand of American tyranny that would be nonetheless tyrannical.

There were very real concerns about establishing a strong federal government and fears of a New World monarchy.

The spirit of independence that led to the Declaration and eventually to the American Revolution was fanned by pamphleteers and colonial newspapers.

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Paine to Anne Catherine Hoof Green, these early journalists courageously put ink on paper, exposing the abuses of British rule and championing colonial rights.

Were it not for journalists, it is likely that the cause of liberty would have failed for lack of popular support.

So while the founders were, at times, critical of the newspapers, they also knew they were crucial for the republic and for its future.

Even Thomas Jefferson, the champion of individual rights and personal independence, grew angry at unflattering press reports. He still argued that strong newspapers were more important than a strong government.

James Madison, as well, knew the press must be protected.

In fact, the First Amendment specifically and intentionally protects the press, religious expression, speech, and rights of assembly and protest.

It is of primary importance that it be understood those protections for a free press and the freedom of expression were specifically intended to protect the right to be harsh and critical of the government itself.

The press holds government in check and – acting as a public surrogate – functions as the Fourth Estate.

Though the founders also created a system of checks and balances by forming three co-equal branches of government and a system of oversight, especially for the executive branch, they also knew that left to its own devices, government would run amok and could not be trusted to police itself.

The freedom of the press has been called one of the “great bulwarks of liberty.”

The First Amendment is uniquely American.

Consequently, nothing could be more American than a free and unfettered press.

Government actors, including Congress, the courts and the executive branch, must not – cannot – abridge the rights of a free press.

State government must also fully respect and even protect the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the right to assemble, the right to protest and the freedom of the press.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the editor of the Valdosta (Georgia)Daily Times and president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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