Barske: Free press necessary for democracy


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The U.S. Constitution was signed Sept. 17, 1787.

Emily Barske

Many say that understanding the importance of a free press is now more important than ever. I disagree.

History and the present show that freedom of the press, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, has been challenged time and again. And it is not a bipartisan challenge.

The Obama administration set a record for withholding Freedom of Information requests and cut staff in charge of assisting with record requests by 9 percent, according to an AP study in 2015. And just this year, President Donald Trump deemed the press the “enemy of the American people.”

These challenges are nothing new. Nonetheless, we must combat them. But it is not something that journalists or First Amendment advocates can do alone. We need the American people behind us.

To be behind the free press does not mean that you must always agree with the decisions journalists make while covering the news, but rather it means fundamentally understanding that without a free press, there would be no journalists to hold the government accountable for properly serving the public, to give a voice to the voiceless or cover tragedies affecting our country.

Thomas Jefferson said, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” I’m not ignorant to the fact that not everyone in past or present societies would agree with Jefferson and see the true value in a free press. But as a journalist and an American citizen I see an incredible value — and I want you to as well.

Take the Iowa State Daily for an example. Just in this past school year alone, we have covered protests, President Steven Leath’s mixed use of the university aircraft for personal and business matters, lawsuits against the university and several tuition increases. We’ve covered tough topics like suicide, sexual assault and inclusion on campus. And that’s just a shortened list. That’s why a free press matters and why we need your support.

We can’t be certain, but it wouldn’t be unlikely that if we had a government-controlled press, many of these articles would not have been allowed in our publication. Information pertinent to the community may have never reached the public. That’s why a free press matters and why we need your support.

I will be the first to admit that there are many areas where the Daily can improve its coverage — we are working on those and we want to work with you to help improve our organization. But when it comes to a holistic understanding of our news organization or any news organization, the public must understand that we are not fake news, we are not sticking our noses where they don’t belong when we file Freedom of Information requests and we are not the enemy of the American people. We are serving our role in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. That’s why a free press matters and why we need your support.

There is simply not enough journalists to look into every issue that our society faces, but if you want to see more coverage, you have to invest in it. Subscribe to a news organization, don’t complain about a paywall on a website and encourage members of your community to support journalism through financial means — news organizations are just like any other business and they need investors to sustain themselves.

Moreover, support Freedom of Information laws and fight undue restrictions placed on public information. It should scare you that more than ever journalists, and the public, are being told they can’t have access information that is guaranteed to them by law. If you want journalists to continue not taking no for an answer and looking for the roots of a problem, then you have to invest in journalism and invest in a free press.

Fighting for freedom of press is fighting for yourself and all American people.