Money Woes Weaken Media's Ability To Defend 1st Amendment: Editors

April 27, 2016

If the news media won't defend the First Amendment guarantee of a free press, who will? A new survey of top U.S. editors suggests that the media's ability to defend the First Amendment is wilting — and that lack of money is one source of the problem.

The survey polled 66 editors, mostly top-level editors at large-audience print and online publications. It was conducted by a partnership of Knight Foundation, the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

News media companies for many decades had defended and even expanded First Amendment rights because they could spend money to go to court. Prominent court cases often succeeded in opening access to public records, protecting confidential sources, preventing prior restraint, and opening meetings to public scrutiny. As the media business has changed, and profits often declined, the editors surveyed said companies were less able and willing to go to court.

Other challenges to media freedom have grown from the digital revolution. A majority of the editors responding — 71 percent — agreed with the statement: “First Amendment law has not kept up with technological developments.”

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