Democracy depends on a free press

 

In the summer of 1787, the nation’s most influential lawyers, generals and politicians gathered in Philadelphia with a single purpose: To create a government that was ruled by the people instead of one that ruled them.

The first words of the Constitution underscored this principle: “We, the people, of the United States of America . . .”

To protect the people’s power, our Founding Fathers carefully divided the government into three branches. With this system, no one person or governmental branch could ever rule with absolute authority.

The checks and balances provide a framework for the government. However, the cornerstone of our democracy is the unique privilege and responsibility of every citizen to be engaged through voting, public offices, representation in Congress and myriad other ways.

For a society to be responsible and powerful, it must be informed. Our free press, protected by the first constitutional amendment, plays a critical role in ensuring that every American has constant access to important and trustworthy news.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

As he emphasized, this free flow of information to the public is essential to preserving our American democracy. In addition to educating and reporting, the press serves as the public’s independent watchdog, charged with keeping governments, businesses and other organizations in check.

What other institution has the power to talk to key leaders, inspire social change and uncover corruption, while analyzing and providing context for major global events? Thanks to diligent reporting, citizens are empowered to take a stance on critical issues, enact change and demand the best from their leaders.

Recent headlines have demonstrated that we can’t take the power of the press for granted. After it was revealed this summer that the government secretly obtained AP phone records and the email content of Fox News reporter James Rosen, while also ruling that New York Times reporter James Risen must disclose his confidential sources, it became clear that confidential sources and the integrity of the newsgathering process must also be specifically protected.

Without a free press that can defend its sources, American democracy will suffer. The Newspaper Association of America applauded the vote last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Free Flow of Information Act for vote in the Senate. This bill represents a critical step in preserving the public’s right to know while still ensuring effective law enforcement.

While we celebrate this, we know that news organizations and the government itself comprise only a piece of the equation. To have a strong democracy and educated citizenry, it is up to you to take advantage of your opportunities to be engaged. It is up to you to stay informed by reading newspapers, visiting their websites or accessing their news apps, and up to you to show up at the polls on Nov. 5.

The Constitution was ratified on Sept. 17, a day that we continue to commemorate every year as the birth of our uniquely American government. There is no better way to honor our Constitution and our founding fathers than by exercising our individual right to be informed.

Caroline Little, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, Washington, D.C.

Read more Speak Up stories from the Miami Herald

  • FIU is thriving, let it continue to do so

    When I drove onto the FIU campus for my job interview in 1981, I thought “what an isolated and barren place.”

  •  
Natalie Altman

    The readers’ forum

    Aging gracefully? No way!

    I want to comment on Ms. Gina Barreca’s July 19 Other Views column on aging. She’s writing from the perspective of a 57-year-old woman; I’m 75. My perspective is living the process:

  •  
2005: Photograph taken the day Miami Dade School Boatd member Marta Perez met the late Maya Angelou at the 12th Annual 5000 Role Models of Excellence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Scholarship breakfast. Standing between them is the unidentified boy Perez introduced to Angelou, who died last week.

    Marta Perez: The day I met Maya Angelou

    As time passes, people who impressed us in our youth, and who we associated with immortality, suddenly die. It astonishes us because they were so vibrant in our thoughts. It causes us to reminisce of happy memories associated with them. Such is the case with the passing this week of Maya Angelou.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category