Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

The New York State Writers Institute, a local treasure, offered a two-day, six-panel “symposium of topics crucial to an open democratic society” called Telling the Truth in a Post-truth World. The session I attended the evening of Friday the 13th of October at Page Hall on the UAlbany Downtown Campus, was “Presidents and the Press: Trump, Nixon & More.”

This turned out to be extremely timely because the Washington Post had just published Trump’s threat to NBC’s license is the very definition of Nixonian.

The moderator of the panel was Bob Schieffer, moderator of three presidential debates and former anchor of CBS Evening News and Face the Nation
The panelists included:
*Douglas Brinkley, CNN Presidential historian and biographer of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford
*Amy Goodman, investigative reporter, host and producer of the award-winning news program, Democracy Now! that airs on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide
*Harry Rosenfeld, Times Union editor-at-large, and former Metro Editor at The Washington Post who oversaw the paper’s coverage of Watergate
*Shane Goldmacher, chief White House correspondent for POLITICO, who previously reported on the 2016 Republican presidential primary campaign

There were some interesting moments, such as when Schieffer, who I’ve watched for decades, suggested that Goodman, who had a LOT of fans in the audience, was positing her opinions as facts, citing Daniel Patrick Moynihan. However, Goodman did note that it was important that the corporate media defend itself from attack from the regime.

Americans tend to think of freedom of the press as a uniquely American ideal that has spread throughout the world. But that value was codified more than a century earlier.

From here: “In 1644 the English poet and man of letters, John Milton, published the Areopagitica as an appeal to Parliament to rescind their Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643. This order was designed to bring publishing under government control by creating a number of official censors to whom authors would submit their work for approval prior to having it published. Milton’s argument, in brief, was that precensorship of authors was little more than an excuse for state control of thought.”

Although the freedom expressed took a half century to come to pass in Great Britain, the Milton argument regarding prohibition against prior restraint, or pre-publication censorship, is fundamental to the US Constitution. Threatening censorship prior to publication, as the current regime is suggesting, would have a chilling effect on expression and speech, and would interfere with the pursuit of truth.

A joint program of the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Press Club of New York State

When: Thursday, April 20, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Delmar Reformed Church, 386 Delaware Avenue, (at the Four Corners), Delmar, NY

Who:
Panelists
* Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union and host of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s “The Media Project”
* Rosemary Armao, director of the University at Albany journalism program and a panelist on WAMC’s “The Roundtable”
* Robert Heverly, an associate professor at Albany Law School.
Moderator
*Angela Ledford, professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose and professor in residence at the state Assembly.

Why? The forum will consider the challenges to the First Amendment and the practice of journalism in the current political environment. Possible answers to the following questions will be discussed:
*How does social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, affect the news that voters need to receive in a functioning democracy?
*How do we distinguish “fake news” from the real news?
*Where does responsibility lie for the provision of authentic and credible news?

How to Participate: The public is encouraged to attend this compelling program. There is no charge for admission, but donations are encouraged. After costs, all donations will go toward programs sponsored by the two organizations including Women’s Press Club scholarships for young journalists going into the field. Come and be part of an ongoing public discussion of this important issue.

About the Program Sponsors:

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

The Women’s Press Club of New York State, Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1966 by a small group of women journalists committed to supporting women in journalism and communications.

Intellectual property lawyer/drummer Paul Rapp noted that a “right to be forgotten” bill has been introduced in the New York legislature. “These laws are based on some supposed ‘human right’ that… says you’re entitled to have embarrassing things in your past ‘forgotten’ on the internet.”

From New York Assembly Bill 5323, introduced by Assemblyman David I. Weprin and, as Senate Bill 4561 by state Senator Tony Avella: “Requires search engines, indexers, publishers and any other persons or entities which make available, on or through the internet or other widely used computer-based network, program or service, information about an individual to remove such information, upon the request of the individual, within thirty days of such request.”

The Washington Post writes:

So, under this bill, newspapers, scholarly works, copies of books on Google Books and Amazon, online encyclopedias (Wikipedia and others) — all would have to be censored whenever a judge and jury found (or the author expected them to find) that the speech was “no longer material to current public debate or discourse” (except when it was “related to convicted felonies” or “legal matters relating to violence” in which the subject played a “central and substantial” role). And of course the bill contains no exception even for material of genuine historical interest; after all, such speech would have to be removed if it was “no longer material to current public debate.” Nor is there an exception for autobiographic material, whether in a book, on a blog or anywhere else. Nor is there an exception for political figures, prominent businesspeople and others.

But the deeper problem with the bill is simply that it aims to censor what people say, under a broad, vague test based on what the government thinks the public should or shouldn’t be discussing. It is clearly unconstitutional under current First Amendment law, and I hope First Amendment law will stay that way (no matter what rules other countries might have adopted).

The website Reason received this blistering analysis from First Amendment attorney Ken White of Brown, White & Osborn (and also of Popehat fame):

This bill is a constitutional and policy disaster that shows no sign that the drafters made any attempt whatsoever to conform to the requirements of the constitution. It purports to punish both speakers and search engines for publishing—or indexing—truthful information protected by the First Amendment. There’s no First Amendment exception for speech deemed “irrelevant” or “inadequate” or “excessive,” and the rules for punishing “inaccurate” speech are already well-established and not followed by this bill. The bill is hopelessly vague, requiring speakers to guess at what some fact-finder will decide is “irrelevant” or “no longer material to current public debate,” or how a fact-finder will balance (in defiance of the First Amendment) the harm of the speech and its relevance. The exceptions are haphazard and poorly defined, and the role of the New York Secretary of State in administering the law is unclear. This would be a bonanza for anyone who wanted to harass reporters, bloggers, search engines, and web sites to take down negative information, and would incentivize such harassment and inflict massive legal costs on anyone who wanted to stand up to a vexatious litigant.

Conversely, the Association for Accountability and Internet Democracy (AAID) supports the bill, saying that “that the Right to Be Forgotten has allowed thousands of victims throughout the European Union to reclaim their dignity and their right to live a normal life unaffected by online exclusion from society.”

I remain unconvinced that the possible value of this legislation outweighs the onerous burden of removing true but supposedly “irrelevant” speech, and as a librarian, I actively oppose this bill.

Close up of the Constitution of the United States of America with quil feather pen

Close up of the Constitution of the United States of America with quill feather pen

Constitution Day is tomorrow, so I found some articles from the previous 12 months, pulling out quotes, to commemorate it. I suggest you read the whole articles.

Civics For Dummies: Judicial Review
People who dislike particular court rulings often imagine that this power of judicial review wasn’t in the Founders’ original vision at all; somewhere along the line the Supreme Court just usurped it. But in fact the Founders foresaw judicial review and approved.

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment
“‘One loves to possess arms’ wrote Thomas Jefferson, the premier intellectual of his day, to George Washington on June 19, 1796.” What a find! Oops Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama is currently embroiled in three situations labelled as political scandal. The IRS scandal is the most problematic in that it involves a highly disliked arm of government that affects almost everyone’s lives. But I agree that the REAL scandal in the IRS issue is that there are lots of political groups on both ends of the political spectrum getting tax-exempt status, when that designation should be limited Read the rest of this entry »

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