Freedom of the press is a necessary component of democracy

Window on the West
Opinion column


by Mary Rupert

The Founding Fathers recognized, when they added the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, that a free press is essential to a democracy.

We must be free to speak our opinions, to write what we choose, to debate candidates’ positions and to freely choose our candidates in order for democracy to flourish. Our American system was founded on the people’s right to a free press and free speech, and it presumes that the public will compare ideas and then choose the correct path for themselves.

We can only surmise that the frequent attacks from President Trump on the press over the last few years are designed to undermine our democracy’s two centuries of success.

Attacks on the press are nothing new – especially in dictatorships. One of the first things a dictator does is to destroy a free press and take control of all communications. Government control is censorship.

Our Founding Fathers were the opposite – they guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press because they feared tyrants.

Ben Franklin wrote, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

It’s true that many of the presidents have had difficulties with the press, but most of them recognized the essential value of a free press to democracy. A lot of our presidents were not career politicians. They weren’t trying to be a king for life. They instinctively recognized that a free press is a check on a power grab by a dictator.

Here are some quotes from other leaders in history who recognized the role of the free press in a democracy:

“No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” – James Madison

“The freedom of the press should be inviolate.” – John Quincy Adams

“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy

Unfortunately, in recent years, because of economic conditions, we have lost many newspapers and media outlets that provide a mix of news and opinions, which formed the large marketplace of ideas for readers. We need more people, individuals, to step up and foster the growth of newspapers and media outlets, thus providing a stronger foundation for democracy in the future.

You can reach Mary Rupert, editor, at maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

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