People yelling out from a computerThe U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to speak their minds in the media - print, broadcast, and electronic, and social media. Freedom of the press is covered by the First Amendment. It is similar to freedom of speech, but covers two bases. Not only can you speak, but you have the right to make sure others hear you as well.

The Public Has a Right to Know

The U.S. Constitution bases freedom of the press on the idea that an informed public is essential to the way our democratic system works. Technically, the government cannot censor what the media publishes. It can't keep the public in the dark on important issues. Exceptions exist when withholding information protects the public good. For example, publishing or releasing all the evidence of a crime might hurt an investigation. A criminal who is not convicted remains free to break the law again.

Reporters Can Sometimes Protect Their Sources

"Shield laws" apply when the media acquire and publish information from a confidential source. In most states, shield laws protect journalists, publishers, or broadcasters from having to identify their sources in court. The public has a right to the information. The source might not have shared this information if the source risked punishment by doing so. The federal government, however, has typically argued that the First Amendment doesn't apply to media sources in federal court or before a grand jury.

You Can Publish Your Opinions

Freedom of the press does not apply only to major media. It protects authors of books, articles, or videos - in physical form or posted on the Internet. It applies to bloggers. Almost always, you have a right to your opinion and to creative expression.

Freedom of Press Doesn't Prevent Libel Charges

The freedom to publish information comes with the responsibility to make sure that the information is true. For example, if you allege that a local politician cheated on his taxes, you must be able to back this up with proof. If the allegation results in the politician not getting re-elected, and if you can't prove it, you could be guilty of libel. A statement of personal opinion on your blog page or in a letter to the editor is usually different. You can say that you think the politician is shady, because this is not something easily defined as true or false. People in the public eye usually have a harder time proving libel than average citizens because they've voluntarily put themselves in the spotlight.

A Civil Rights Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding a U.S. citizen's right to freedom of the press is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a civil rights lawyer.

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