What role does the news media play in our political system, and what are its constitutional foundations? Under a democratic government with a free press, the news media plays a powerful role because it shapes our view into the political world. In fact, without mass media to inform us of what our government is doing, how would we know?
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads;
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Madison first introduced the freedom of speech and press clause on June 8, 1789 during a speech to the House of Representatives, where he is quoted as saying, ”The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” Our founding fathers, in agreement with Madison, amended the Constitution so that actions by the government could be scrutinized and so that the citizens could monitor the actions of its government without fear. The ultimate goal was to create a system of transparency so that those in leadership could be held accountable.
In 1791,when the United States adopted the First Amendment, the term ‘press’ referred to our ability to publish books, newspapers, and handbills. With advancements in technology, the press has come to include radio, television, and the internet. With the development of social media, desk-top publishing, and blogging, anyone can take on the role of amateur journalist and many have. With so much information or misinformation flowing, we have become increasingly dependent on credible news media outlets.
Concerning the area of politics, I believe that the news media, and a free press, has one primary function. That function is the opportunity to fulfill the role of watch-dog, meaning the news media has the ability to point out corruption by focusing the spotlight on those people in leadership that are not acting in an ethical manner. For example, I site the case of Near vs. Minnesota, 1931. The Near vs. Minnesota case compared the rights of a free press against the state’s goal to fight “yellow journalism”. In summary, Near published a newspaper that printed prejudiced stories, but also included stories that were true. Between September and November 1927, Near included a series of stories that accused a number of city officials, including the Mayor, city attorney, and chief of police, of taking bribes. The county attorney sued. Near appealed up to the Supreme Court and won. While the ruling was a split decision, it did have the effect that the majority had predicted and allowed the press to act as a government watch-dog. “For example, in 1971, the Supreme Court used Near to rule that the federal government could not stop newspapers from printing an embarrassing report about the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War.” (eNotes, 2012)
In conclusion, the media has an important role in today’s politics. Just as our forefathers intended, the news media acts as a watch-dog. At the same time, it is also true that bad media undermines our political system with misleading views twisted by bias. So now, those intended to be the watch-dogs need watching. One thing is for sure, because of our complex government, geographic distances, and busy lifestyles; we are dependent on news media to keep us informed.
About the Author
Jerry Landers is the Vice President of Business Development for Aspire Indiana. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Landers you can learn more about community mental health and how it intersects with business and media at http://www.facebook.com/AspireIndiana
Norris, P., & Odugbemi, S. (2008), The Ideal Roles of the News Media in the Public Sphere. Retrieved from http://www.comminit.com/?q=media-development/node/280203
FindLaw for Legal Professionals (2012), Freedom of Expression—Speech and Press Retrieved from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment01/06.html#1
Curl, W. (2008), The Role of Media in Politics, Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Role-of-Media-in-Politics&id=1174327
Geiger, M. (2010), The Role of the Media in Politics, Retrieved from http://voices.yahoo.com/the-role-media-politics-6002472.html?cat=9
eNotes (2012), Freedom of the Press, Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/freedom-press-reference/freedom-press
eNotes (2012), Near v. Minnesota, Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/near-v-minnesota-reference/near-v-minnesota-299501