Freedom of the Press

(Originally published in Greater Democracy)

During the Democratic National Convention, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not bloggers are really journalists. I would like to take this a little bit and wonder if we are part of the ‘press’ and what that means.

The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. When this was written, an important part of the press were the pamphleteers and these days, bloggers are often spoken about as the modern day pamphleteers.

One issue that rears its ugly head every so often is to what extent does freedom of the press mean that journalists must not reveal their sources? In a situation where whistleblowers face retribution, can we have a free press if the journalists must reveal who the whistleblowers are? Or will whistleblowers simply not contact the media? The suicide of David Kelly, the British defense specialist who spoke with the press and suffered under the ensuing spotlight illustrates this question.

On the other hand, we have the case of Judith Miller who appears to be protecting the identity of senior Bush administration officials who may have broken the law when revealing the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.

Dave Winer looks at this on BloggerCon. He takes this to the aspect of blogging and writes, “If a Times reporter, because she is doing her job, as Sulzberger argues, can say no to the court, why can't you or I? The Constitution (wisely, imho) doesn't create a branch of government for journalism, but reporters often act as if it did. In the age of citizen journalism and blogging, can the austere and distinguished Times ask for and receive special protection under the law?”

How does blogging change the way we should look at freedom of the press? I’m not sure, but I do believe this is a very important issue to think about.

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