Does The First Amendment Always Protect Us Media

By: Kadence Buchanan

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, provides the strongest guarantee of free speech in the world. Unlike people in many other countries, Americans are free to criticize each other and government officials in language both fair and foul, to engage in racist or other hateful speech, and to use expletives and other bad language in public. In some states, like California, they may even exercise their right to free speech on other people's private property. Americans are very proud (some foreigners would say inordinately) of their right to free speech; most of them feel that it encourages a strong free press which regularly cleanses corruption out of American government (e.g., Watergate) and thus ensures its unique stability.

By the early years of the republic when the U.S. system of checks and balances was devised, a daring journalistic community had already become established. A bold and scrappy press was an influential force in denouncing the rule of an English King and leading Colonial America into its revolution against the British Empire. With journalistic freedom protected in the 1791 Bill of Rights, the press became an assertive force during the first decades of nationhood. The U.S. media today is frequently known as the Fourth Estate, an appellation that suggests the press shares equal stature with the three branches of government created by the Constitution. But although the press was not established as an institution by the U.S. constitution, today many citizens believe that it constitutes a branch of U.S. government. Numerous debates still rise regarding press's freedom to act as a watchdog of the American government. Is it protected by law?

Several critical court cases have been landmarks in establishing the rights of the press to pursue information and to publish government documents or derogatory information about public figures. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the media should have some First Amendment protection from the laws of libel for fear that lawsuits and possible monetary damages might disincline media owners from fully reporting on public matters. In order for a public figure to win a defamation case against a media defendant, the plaintiff must show "actual malice," which the courts have defined as knowledge that the published statement was false or as "reckless disregard of whether it was false or not".

In our time, American free speech law has become an issue of international appeal since the Internet rose as another main medium of communication. Probably, this is because many banned groups can take advantage of Internet service providers based in the United States to send their messages around the world, even where such speech is banned. U.S. courts will not enforce foreign judgments contrary to domestic public policy, including the liberal U.S. policy on free speech. As for the U.S. perspective, many Americans dislike attempts by common law jurisdictions to extend their personal jurisdiction to American defendants whose alleged defamatory speech acts occurred over the Internet and were not targeted towards those jurisdictions. If the First Amendment cannot protect them, what else can? Is diplomacy a solution? The fact remains that political and social scientists seem to have set off in unknown waters.

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