The Role of the Free Press in a Democracy

The idea of freedom of speech is something that has been touted by democratic societies since their inception, and the United States of America is no different. We run on a specific governmental structure that is put in place by the people, and is meant to defend the rights of those within the society by allowing the people to participate in the decision making process.

The three branches of the government are in place for one purpose – our founders never again wanted to live in a country where the government had absolute power, i.e. a country where a monarch or dictator ruled supreme. Though the construct of democracy is the framework to our society, there is a greater force that holds it all together: the power of free speech and the press.

In the U.S., democracy comes with certain privileges and responsibilities all citizens must participate in in order for the country to be successful, things like voting, representing the people in local offices, and – perhaps most importantly – questioning those in power. In order for citizens to do that, they must be kept informed about the things happening in our country.

That’s where the free press comes in.

The First Amendment in the Constitution protects the press under freedom of speech, and it is the press’s role to bring the people of the United States accurate, unbiased, and trustworthy news. Without it, the government has a far greater chance of becoming corrupt because no one knows enough to ask the right questions.

Thomas Jefferson, who was a draftsman of the Declaration of Independence, the first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president, illustrated the purpose of the free press perfectly to Marquis de Lafayette in a letter: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

But the question still exists: what happens when the press isn’t free?

We see it today, from big presses to small – billionaires buying out newspaper franchises and small local papers; some examples according to Forbes Magazine are Rupert Murdoch, whose family owns and controls over 120 newspapers in five different countries, and John Henry, owner of the Red Sox, who purchased the Boston Globe in October 2013. Even small presses get bought out, or disappear altogether because of lack of funding, ultimately putting a hold on what keeps democracy in place.

If newspapers are bought out by corporations or individuals, there is a likely chance that those corporations or individuals will use the paper to push an agenda, whether it be political (which it is more often than not) or personal. No longer can the reporters report the whole truth, because they are subject to the views and opinion of those that foot the bill for the newspaper.

In order for democracy to continue to survive in the era of fake news and conglomerates controlling news sources, the small, locally run newspapers must continue to do their job: ask questions, do research, and do their best to report all sides of the story.

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter