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First Amendment and the Freedom of the Press

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides for protection of freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is regarded as fundamental to individual rights, the maintenance of an ongoing free society as well as a democratic self-government. However, there are established limits to freedom of press including the utilization of the press in situations which might prevent the government from protecting an important interest, the law of libel, and the law of obscenity.

First Amendment and the Freedom of the Press

Limiting the Freedom of the Press

Since World War I, the Supreme Court has allowed the government to limit the utilization of the press in situations that would create a potential danger of initiating serious consequences in relation to some significant interest that the government has a right or duty to protect. The most clear examples of this limitation can be found during times of war when the press is limited in its’ capacity to share information which may prevent the government from being able to protect the national interest and security.

The Law of Libel and Freedom of the Press

Another important limit on the freedom of press is the law of libel, involving the following:

  • Defamation of a person
  • False accusations,
  • Exposure of someone to hatred, ridicule, or economic loss.

In 1964, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a public figure who sues a newspaper for libel can recover damages only if the person can prove that the statement printed was made with actual malice. 

During the mid-1900’s, the law of obscenity was also a substantial limitation on freedom of the press. Today this exception has been furthered narrowed and only that which is considered hard-core pornography is not protected under the freedom of press.

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