press, freedom of the
Introductionpress, freedom of the, liberty to print or to otherwise disseminate information, as in print, by broadcasting, or through electronic media, without prior restraints such as licensing requirements or content review and without subsequent punishment for what is said. Freedom of the press, which has been limited not only by governments but at times by churches, is absolute in no country. In modern democracies it is rarely attacked by overt forms of censorship but is often compromised by governments' ability to withhold information, by self-censorship in reaction to various pressures, by selective government "leaking" of information or disinformation, and by other factors.
In the United States, freedom of the press and the broader freedom of speech (see speech, freedom of) are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and are considered fundamental rights of the people. In practice, though, some kinds of speech and publication (e.g., obscenity or violations of copyright) are considered outside the amendment's purview, and others, like commercial speech (advertising or product claims), receive a reduced level of protection. In addition, broadcasters are subject to government licensing requirements. The protections to be afforded users of on-line computer services, the Internet, and other new means of publication are the focus of a developing debate; in 1996 a federal district court panel struck down the new Communications Decency Act, holding that Internet communications were entitled to the same degree of protection as printed communications.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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