By Karen Hansen, RTDNA
Today kicks off Free Speech Week 2014, a week-long celebration of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Bill of Rights. RTDNA invites you to take some time this week to celebrate the five freedoms, so vital to healthy democracy, listed in the First Amendment.
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.
This week, we celebrate not only the freedom of expression every American enjoys, but also the specifically listed freedom journalists enjoy – freedom of the press.
The Knight Foundation’s recent Future of the First Amendment survey showed current high school students strongly value free speech, with the greatest appreciation for the First Amendment in a decade. In fact, students valued the First Amendment even more than adults. When asked to rate which of the five First Amendment rights is most important to them, 65% of high school students and 40% of their teachers chose freedom of speech. However, only 3% of students and 6% of teachers chose freedom of the press.
While the right to press freedom may not seem to directly benefit students or the general public, it’s a freedom that ensures the press can hold government accountable, keep citizens informed, and ensure a healthy democracy, and it’s one that RTDNA works to preserve.
RTDNA takes a lead on press freedom through our work on Freedom of Information issues, government transparency, and more. Here’s a look at some of what we’ve worked on just in the past year:
- We urged Missouri’s Attorney General to enforce open records laws and end the charging of exorbitant fees for access to records related to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
- As a member of the Coalition for Court Transparency, we sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts urging the court to be opened to recording and broadcasting court proceedings.
- We were signatories on a letter to President Obama urging him to fulfill his promises of a transparent and open administration.
- When the U.S. Forest Service attempted to implement rules restricting media access to public lands, RTDNA and other groups successfully protested.
- We continue to urge the FAA to quickly issue favorable rules on the use of drones by the media.
- After the FCC attempted to question newsrooms on their editorial judgment, we successfully urged the FCC to eliminate the inappropriate questioning.
- Just last week, we joined other press organizations in urging education leaders to ensure press freedom for student media in the Neshaminy School District, which punished student journalists and their advisor for refusing to use their school mascot name, a term the students found offensive.
- Each year, RTDNF honors individuals and organizations for their work on behalf of First Amendment freedom at our First Amendment Awards. The 25th Annual dinner and awards ceremony will be held on March 11, 2015.
The U.S. has recently slipped in press freedom rankings. The 2014 World Press Freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders ranked the U.S. 46th out of 180 countries measured, a loss of 14 points from the previous year. Citing government surveillance of journalists and targeting of sources and whistleblowers, the report’s startling conclusions outline why it’s so important, now more than ever, to work to preserve press freedom.
We’ll continue to fight for freedom of speech and of the press this week and throughout the year, and we hope you’ll take a moment this week to consider why freedom of speech matters to you. To get you thinking, we’ll be giving away one free year of membership at the end of Free Speech Week to one lucky Twitter user. See the official rules for details. To be entered, download and print our free speech bubble, fill it in, and tweet a selfie with your sign. Be sure to include #FreedomSpeaks and tag @rtdna!
Here are some other ways to get involved in Free Speech Week:
- Hold a discussion about when it’s appropriate not to say something. Check out our Code of Ethics and coverage guidelines for ideas.
- Create a Free Speech Wall
- Take a look at what’s on the ballot in your area this Election Day
- Write a poem or draw a picture
- Sign a petition
- Take a look at historically challenged songs with Freedom Sings
- Go for one hour or even one day without using your right to free expression- remember, no liking, commenting, agreeing or disagreeing.