Freedom of the press

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Freedom of the press is the right to publish materials without government interference or censorship. It is an explicit part of the free speech protections of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.

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.

In England, the government required the press to be licensed and regulated what could be printed. The Star Chamber punished criticism of the King as seditious libel, even if the criticism was true. In 1695, the English Parliament allowed the press licensing laws to lapse, and in the 1770s, the crown failed to convict a number of authors for libel.

In 1776, the Virginia colonial legislature passed a Declaration of Rights that included the sentence "The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments." Eight of the other thirteen states made similar pledges. When the Constitutional Convention drafted the original Constitution, the proposal was criticized for failing to include a Bill of Rights. So the First Congress drafted the Bill of Rights (including a provision for Freedom of the Press) and sent it to the states for ratification.

As with freedom of speech, freedom of the press is not an unlimited right and the contours have been interpreted by court cases. In Near v. Minnesota (1931),[1] the Supreme Court rejected prior restraint (pre-publication censorship) as prohibited by the First Amendment. In this case, the Minnesota legislature passed a statute allowing courts to shut down "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspapers", allowing a defense of truth only in cases where the truth had been told "with good motives and for justifiable ends".[2] In a 5–4 decision, the Court applied the Free Press Clause to the states, rejecting the statute as unconstitutional.

Other countries

Many countries do not take as broad a view as the United States in defending a free press. For example, in Italy, the Constitution of the Republic of Italy (which was adopted in 1948) guarantees the freedom of the press, as stated in Article 21, Paragraphs 2 and 3:[3]

"The press may not be subjected to any authorisation or censorship. Seizure may be permitted only by judicial order stating the reason and only for offences expressly determined by the law on the press or in case of violation of the obligation to identify the persons responsible for such offences."

The Constitution allows the warrantless confiscation of periodicals in cases of absolute urgency, when the Judiciary cannot timely intervene, on the condition that a judicial hearing must be obtained within 24 hours. Article 21 Paragraph 6 also restraint of publications considered offensive by public morality::

"Publications, performances, and other exhibits offensive to public morality shall be prohibited. Measures of preventive and repressive measure against such violations shall be established by law."

See Also


  1. Near v. Minnesota 283 U.S. 697 (1931)
  2. Lewis, Anthony (2007). Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment. Basic Books. pp. 43. ISBN 978-0-465-03917-3. OCLC 173659591
  3. The Italian Constitution. The official website of the Presidency of the Italian Republic.