On Freedom of the Press

“The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty,
and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”
George Mason, Virginia Bill of Rights [1776]

 “A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize;
it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny.”
Winston Churchill [1949]

“Freedom of the press is perhaps the freedom that has suffered the most
 from a gradual degradation of the idea of liberty.”
Albert Camus, Resistance Rebellion, and Death [1960]

“[T]he injunction against The New York Times should have been vacated without oral argument when the cases were first presented... . [E]very moment's continuance of the injunctions ... amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment. ... The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. ... [W]e are asked to hold that ... the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws ... abridging freedom of the press in the name of 'national security.' ... To find that the President has 'inherent power' to halt the publication of news ... would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make 'secure.' ... The word 'security' is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security... . The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged.”
Justice Hugo Black, associate justice, U.S. Supreme Court, in the majority opinion [6–3] on 
New York Times Co. v. United States; June 30, 1971

“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

Hannah Arendt, in a 1974 interview with French writer Roger Errera,
and subsequently published in The New York Review of Books (October 26, 1978)

The above quotes from George Mason, Winston Churchill, Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt—four people from different nations and of differing world views—speak, however, a common language when it comes to the freedom to speak without fear. They agree in spirit to the fundamental need of maintaining free press within a liberal democratic society. When it is absent or censored, it is felt more keenly by the nation’s citizens, notably those who seek justice. It is generally agreed that the only people who fear a free press are despots, tyrants, dictators and autocrats, as well as those who hold totalitarian views.

It is also generally agreed that the press or the media is one of the fundamental institutions of liberal democracy. When freedom of the press is attenuated or absent, liberal democracy—and as a result, its citizens—suffer grave harm. When one examines which nations have a strong press, it always comes with strong individual freedoms. The reverse is also true. The freedom of the press might, at times, be taken for granted in western democracies, but when it is undermined by reactionary and regressive governments and comes under attack—as is the case today in many places of the world—its lack becomes noticeable.

Few win when this occurs, and certainly not the vast majority of a nation’s citizens. One cannot ever-emphasize the fact that a liberal democracy goes hand-in-hand with a free unfettered press. One cannot live without the other. Its importance is undeniable. My articles, and those that I post from around the world, are written with such an understanding. I am a strong advocate of a free press, as much as I am a strong advocate of liberal democracy.

For my views on freedom of the press, I recommend that you read “Defending Journalism.”

Thankfully, there are a number of excellent organizations that promote press freedom and advocate for the very journalists who are doing their job:

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

“Freedom is the most important human aspiration; without it, we are all in chains.”