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Court case serves as a reminder that Modern Journalism often violates our individual rights in the name of protecting them 12/28/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in First Amendment.

Jeff Jarvis‘ well-meaning, but misplaced concerns about the possibility of chilled speech from a recent court case is symptomatic of Modern Journalism’s often dangerous confusion and misapplication of the First Amendment. At issue is whether an author/journalist, no matter how valuable her work might be, should be immune from charges of libel in a British court. She had written a book (not a newspaper), that was distributed in the U.K. (not just the U.S.), that made accusations that are unproven (not necessarily true) about a private citizen (not a government official).

Forgetting for a moment the false expectation that British courts comply with U.S. laws, the First Amendment was never intended to create special rights for a special class of people we now know as journalists, was never intended to eliminate libel laws, and was certainly never intended to give journalists license to defame private citizens — an absurd idea given that the Amendment was about protecting individuals’ rights. Government, not private citizens, was the threat that the First Amendment was designed to protect us against. Ironically and tragically, under the pretense of exercising their own First Amendment rights, journalists often encroach on the individual rights of innocent public servants and private citizens, destroying their personal reputations. Most famously, Reagan’s Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan, after his acquittal from reckless charges hyped by journalists, asked “which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” The fact that Britain’s laws may now provide more protections for the accused might actually be viewed as safeguarding First-Amendment-type individual rights better than America now does.

Journalists who are sincerely concerned about protecting First Amendment rights from the wrongful practices of other nations can find a much better cause much closer to home — the persecution of columnist Mark Steyn at the hands of the Canadian government. After Canadian best-selling magazine Maclean reprinted a chapter from one of his books, five Muslim law-school students demanded that the magazine be punished for spreading “hatred and contempt” for Muslims. No charges of libel of individuals here — just a few people offended by his ideas. If Canada’s government human rights commissions side with the complainants, as they have in all similar previous cases, the magazine will face financial and other penalties. Now that’s EXACTLY what our First Amendment was designed to protect us against. Other than the NY Post, not a single mainstream outlet or journalist has mentioned this story — once again demonstrating that, overall, Modern Journalism often shows itself to be a greater threat than a guarantor of our First Amendment rights.


1. Reuben The Sandwich - 12/28/07

I agree with Steve’s comment.

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