For the second consecutive year, Reynolds School of Journalism faculty, students and community members gathered together to discuss growing concerns around press freedoms and First Amendment rights in an increasingly unsettled political landscape. Wednesday’s First Amendment Forum entitled, “Can they do that? Threats to press freedom in historical and legal context” took place in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre.
Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Lucy Dalglish, media lawyer and Dean of Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, discussed frankly the historical and legal precedents for the current attacks against press freedom with moderator Patrick File, assistant professor of media law at the Reynolds School of Journalism.
The night began with an introduction.
“We ask ‘can they do that?’ when our local, state or federal officials and agencies seek to limit our access to documents or meetings or other places where government business is taking place,” File said. “We also ask that question when allegations of wrongdoing go the other way. When reporting relies on questionable investigative tactics.”
Dalglish then kicked-off the discussion by providing historical context behind objectivity and press freedoms in American media. She explained that publishers have long had a stake in the content being published in their papers and that press freedoms as we know them today only truly came into place in the 20th century.
Dalglish argued against the idea that the attack on press freedoms and objectivity is new, and she pointed out that presidents throughout American history have attempted to discredit the press. A good example of this was Theodore Roosevelt’s disdain for the press and his coining of the derogatory term muckrakers, according to Dalglish.
Timm then took the stage to discuss what threats to the press mean in the present day, including the legal precedents concerning First Amendment rights and press freedoms. According to Timm, the tools that the Trump administration uses today to curtail press freedoms were put into practice by the Obama administration. Nevertheless, he said the more adversarial relationship between the government and the press can have its upsides.
“The press has become much more aggressive and adversarial towards the administration because [Trump] has taken that tact first,” Timm said. “I think if he had taken a nicer approach, he actually would have gotten better coverage. It’s kind of ironic to think that, but in some ways, it’s a good thing that there is this adversarial relationship going on because it has led to more in-depth, investigative reporting.”
During the Q&A section of the forum, faculty, students and community members shared their concerns and received insight from the speakers. Discussion included the state of the reporting industry as a whole, how the internet has disrupted the industry and how advertising standards of traditional print and broadcast mediums might be altered for the internet.
When discussing the future of the industry, Dalglish leaned on her experience as an educator.
“I’m confident that the journalism students in the audience are going to figure it out along with those of you that are technologists and those of you that are business majors,” Dalglish said. “Good journalism will triumph.”
View the entire forum below.