The Struggle for Free Speech in the 21st Century
The First Amendment has been at the heart of American values since the drafting of the Bill of Rights, but
In his new book, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century (Inalienable Rights), Bollinger, a leading First Amendment scholar, discusses the capabilities of and the problems confronting a free press in the global society. He recently chatted with us about the evolution of the First Amendment and how to preserve its protections and expand them globally. Excerpts:
What does the First Amendment mean in America today?
The First Amendment as we know it today is really a product of the 20th century. Since cases like
How has it changed since it was first conceived?
It had an inauspicious beginning.
How does the First Amendment affect the rest of the world?
We're at the cusp of entering a global public forum, and we can see the effects of censorship now have profound effects in our own country even though they originate outside the country. Censorship anywhere will be censorship everywhere. We're going to have to figure out ways to deal with that.
What is the government's role in ensuring an uninhibited, robust, and wide-open press?
You argue that the recent wars have hindered the free press.
The restrictions placed at various times on access by the press to war zones, both in
Have you seen improvements with the new administration?
Certainly, the statements Secretary [
Should corporations as an entity enjoy First Amendment rights?
The recent majority decision in Citizens United was a dramatic change in existing constitutional law and a decision of really far-reaching consequences, not only for the First Amendment but for American democracy. The problem that the majority decision confronts is in failing to really come to terms with the fact that corporations, corporate organizations, are set up by the state; they are creatures of the state. And the question is whether those commercial activities which generate wealth can be limited in their interference and involvement in the political life of the country. The minority justices, and the prior decisions, make a powerful case that those limitations should be permitted under the First Amendment.
What do you think of the partisanship in today's media?
There have always been elements of the press that reflected a political viewpoint. That's all for the good. The question that needs to be asked is not "How do we feel about partisan speech in media?" but "Are we at risk of losing the balanced, independent, thoughtful, objective, reflective kind of journalistic news reports that have evolved as the sort of essence of American journalism over the past century?" As the financial stability of the press has come into question largely because of the effects of the Internet on the traditional media, it is becoming harder and harder for news organizations to stick to a professional journalism style. That would be a just tremendous loss.
What will the media of the future look like?
As new media have come in, rarely have they displaced entirely older media. Many people felt that radio and then television would end print media, and of course that didn't happen. Many people felt that cable television would end broadcast media, and that has not happened.
So you're optimistic about the future?
I am. I think that the more people know things, the more information they want. What we're finding, certainly, is that more of them want information.
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The Struggle for Free Speech in the 21st Century | Jessica Rettig
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