Freedom of the press in the United States
Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause is generally understood as prohibiting the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions, although freedom of the press
Freedom of the press
Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication and expression through vehicles including various electronic media and published materials...

, like freedom of speech, is subject to some restrictions, such as defamation law and copyright law.

In Lovell v. City of Griffin, Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, "every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion." This includes everything from newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

s to blog
A blog is a type of website or part of a website supposed to be updated with new content from time to time. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in...


As famously said by journalist A. J. Liebling
A. J. Liebling
Abbott Joseph Liebling was an American journalist who was closely associated with The New Yorker from 1935 until his death.-Biography:...

, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." The individuals, businesses, and organizations that own a means of publication are able to publish information and opinions without government interference, and cannot be compelled by the government to publish information and opinions that they disagree with. For example, the owner of a printing press cannot be required to print advertisements for a political opponent, even if the printer normally accepts commercial printing jobs.

In 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Near v. Minnesota
Near v. Minnesota
Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 , was a United States Supreme Court decision that recognized the freedom of the press by roundly rejecting prior restraints on publication, a principle that was applied to free speech generally in subsequent jurisprudence...

used the 14th Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 to apply the freedom of the press to the States. Other notable cases regarding free press are:
  • New York Times Co. v. United States
    New York Times Co. v. United States
    New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 , was a United States Supreme Court per curiam decision. The ruling made it possible for the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers without risk of government censure.President Richard Nixon had...

    (1971): The Supreme Court upheld the publication of the Pentagon Papers
    Pentagon Papers
    The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967...

  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
    New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
    New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 , was a United States Supreme Court case which established the actual malice standard which has to be met before press reports about public officials or public figures can be considered to be defamation and libel; and hence allowed free reporting of the...

    (1964): The Supreme Court held that when a publication involves a public figure, in order to support a suit for libel, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the publisher acted with "actual malice," meaning that the publisher knew of the falsity of the statement or acted with reckless disregard as to the truth of the statement.

Ranking of United States press freedom

The United States are, as of 2009, joint 20th in the Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders is a France-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press. It was founded in 1985, by Robert Ménard, Rony Brauman and the journalist Jean-Claude Guillebaud. Jean-François Julliard has served as Secretary General since 2008...

 Press Freedom Index
Press Freedom Index
The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders based upon the organization's assessment of their press freedom records. Small countries, such as Andorra, are excluded from this report...

. This is a measure of freedom available to the press, encompassing areas such as government censorship, and not indicative of the quality of journalism. In 2009 the United States climbed 16 places from 36th in 2008 with a score of 4.00, with Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 and Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 tied for first place with 0.00 and Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 bottom of the list with 115.50.

In the Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the Press (report)
Freedom of the Press is a yearly report by US-based non-governmental organization Freedom House, measuring the level of freedom and editorial independence enjoyed by the press in every nation and significant disputed territories around the world. Levels of freedom are scored on a scale from 1 to 100...

 2009 report, published by Freedom House
Freedom House
Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights...

 the United States is ranked fourth in the Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, and joint 24th globally. This reports from 0 (free) to 100 (not free), with the United States scoring 18 compared to Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

 (top of the list) on 9 and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 (bottom of the list) on 98..

Notable exceptions

  • In 1798, not so long after the adoption of the Constitution
    United States Constitution
    The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

    , the governing Federalist Party attempted to stifle criticism by means of the Alien and Sedition Acts
    Alien and Sedition Acts
    The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution's reign of terror and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams...

    . (It was notable that the Sedition Act made criticism of Congress, and of the President, a crime, but not criticism of the Vice-President. Jefferson, a non-Federalist, was Vice-President at the time the Act was passed.) These restrictions on freedom of the press proved very unpopular in the end and worked against the Federalists, leading to the party's eventual demise. Thomas Jefferson
    Thomas Jefferson
    Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

     was among those who opposed the Acts, and did so vehemently, and he was elected President in the election of 1800. Jefferson then pardoned most of those convicted under the Acts. He made it a principle not to ask what they had done, but only whether they had been charged under the Acts. In his first Inaugural Address in 1801 he reiterated his longstanding commitment to freedom of speech and of the press: "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."

  • In mid August of 1861 four newspapers in New York City: New York Daily News, Journal of Commerce, Day Book, and Freeman’s Journal were all given a presentment by a Grand Jury of the United States Circuit Court for “frequently encouraging the rebels by expressions of sympathy and agreement”. This began a series of Federal prosecutions of newspapers throughout the Northern United States during the Civil War which printed expressions of sympathy for Southern causes or criticisms of the Lincoln Administration. Lists of "peace newspapers" that had been published in protest by the New York Daily News were used to conduct planned retributions. The Bangor Democrat, in Maine, was one of these newspapers, where assailants, believed to be part of a covert Federal raid, destroyed the press and set the newspaper facility ablaze. These actions all followed various "executive orders" issued by President Lincoln, including his eighth order on August 7th, 1861, which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold "correspondence with" or give "intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly". This was taken as explicit permission and direction for action for various State and Federal executive and legislative bodies.

  • The Espionage Act of 1917
    Espionage Act of 1917
    The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code but is now found under Title 18, Crime...

     and the Sedition Act of 1918
    Sedition Act of 1918
    The Sedition Act of 1918 was an Act of the United States Congress that extended the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds...

    , which amended it, imposed restrictions on the free press during wartime. It carried fines of $10,000 and up to 20 years imprisonment for people publishing "... disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States ..." In Schenck v. United States
    Schenck v. United States
    Schenck v. United States, , was a United States Supreme Court decision that upheld the Espionage Act of 1917 and concluded that a defendant did not have a First Amendment right to express freedom of speech against the draft during World War I. Ultimately, the case established the "clear and present...

     (1919), the Supreme Court upheld the laws, setting the "Clear and present danger
    Clear and present danger
    Clear and present danger was a term used by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the unanimous opinion for the case Schenck v. United States, concerning the ability of the government to regulate speech against the draft during World War I:...

    " standard. Congress repealed both laws in 1921, and Brandenburg v. Ohio
    Brandenburg v. Ohio
    Brandenburg v. Ohio, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action...

     (1969) revised the "Clear and present danger" test to the "Imminent lawless action
    Imminent lawless action
    "Imminent lawless action" is a standard currently used, and that was established by the United States Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio , for defining the limits of freedom of speech. Brandenburg clarified what constituted a "clear and present danger", the standard established by Schenck v....

    " test, which is less restrictive.

  • 1988: Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
    Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
    Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which held that public school curricular student newspapers that have not been established as forums for student expression are subject to a lower level of First Amendment protection...

    : The Supreme Court upheld that the principal of a school has the right to review and block controversial articles of a school paper funded by the school and published in the school's name.

  • In the United States in 2005, interpretation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
    Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
    The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is a United States federal law that amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which regulates the financing of political campaigns. Its chief sponsors were Senators Russell Feingold and John McCain...

     may consider political statements as being the equivalent of campaign donations. Because access to Internet statements are weakly controlled, the campaign value of statements is not known in advance and a high ultimate value may trigger large fines for violations. This particularly threatens Internet statements by individuals, and ambiguous definitions of membership in the press make the possible effects ambiguous.

  • 2008: Wikileaks
    WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006 under The Sunshine Press organisation, claimed a database of more...

     was forcefully censored by the United States. Wikileaks was given only hours notice "by email" prior to the hearing. Wikileaks pre-litigation California council Julie Turner attended the start of hearing in a personal capacity but was then asked to leave the court room. After appeal, however, all the courts of appeal threw out the case, restoring access to Wikileaks.

  • 2010: BP
    BP p.l.c. is a global oil and gas company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the third-largest energy company and fourth-largest company in the world measured by revenues and one of the six oil and gas "supermajors"...

    collaborates with United States Coast Guard, state law enforcement and local law enforcement officials to prevent the press from properly documenting the Gulf oil spill.
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