Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why does a democracy need journalism and the First Amendment?

The U.S. Capitol symbolizes freedom and democracy and serves as a reminder of the ideals and the principles upon which the nation was founded.
President Abraham Lincoln captured the true essence of democracy when he stated that government should be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Lincoln understood, even in 1863, that a strong, effective democracy derives power from its citizens. I believe the same truth applies to American democracy today, but many people feel powerless to evoke change or unable to challenge government elitists. As government authority continues to expand, the laws of the land gradually become less reflective of the will of the people. What “check” do people really have on government? Who acts as an advocate on behalf of the interests of the people? 
Emerging as a solution to the vast disconnect between the democratic public and the government, journalists assume the task of supplying people with the latest “news.” Although journalism takes myriad forms, the pursuit of truth is a premise that resonates throughout mainstream media outlets. Citizens often rely on journalists to report facts, to investigate government actions and to help them make educated decisions regarding government affairs and policies. For this reason, journalists became known as “government watchdogs.” A resilient democracy needs journalists to expose corruption, enabling the public to hold their elected officials accountable.

At one time, Walter Cronkite, former host of the CBS Evening News, was regarded as the "most trusted man in America." Cronkite established a standard of excellence in journalism that attracted millions of viewers.

For journalism to function properly in a democratic society, though, federal laws must protect certain principles and freedoms. Behind the armor of the First Amendment, journalists can wage their wars without restraint or fear or repercussions. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Legally permitting journalists to support or to chastise government leaders and their actions on a public stage allows people to move closer to uncovering truth. 
The founding fathers possessed a clear vision of what democracy ought to be, and the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights are the cornerstone of American democracy. Most of all, democracy needs people. People need journalism. Journalism needs democracy. Each part must do its job so government can carry out its proper role, the exercise of the will of the people.  

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