With the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump today, many in the media are wondering what it means for them. Trump has a history of manipulating the media, blaming the press for publishing fake news and banning reporters from his events. He has caused concern among journalists about what he might change once he officially takes control of the White House. Though the future is uncertain, here are a few things Trump won’t be able to change about the press:
THE FIRST AMENDMENT
The First Amendment protects the rights of free speech and free press (and also religion, assembly and petition). And given that this is highly unlikely to ever be repealed, the press will have the right to report on what the government is doing. This includes federal, state and local governments, which was made clear in Gitlow v. New York.
SUPREME COURT RULINGS
The Supreme Court has sided with journalists a number of times when it came to cases against the government. In some of the most notable cases, the Supreme Court ruled that prior restraint is unconstitutional, unless a newspaper shows “reckless disregard for the truth,” it is protected under the First Amendment and gag orders violate First Amendment Rights. Check out more cases here, here and here.
SYSTEM OF CHECKS AND BALANCES
Remember when you learned about the government’s system of checks and balances? The executive branch (the president) does not have complete power. It is balanced by the legislative branch (House and Senate) and judicial branch (Supreme Court). So in order for Trump to pass any legislation restricting the press, he would need to get it passed in both the House and Senate. If this were to happen, that law could then be challenged at the Supreme Court, which, as seen above, has protected a lot of the press’s rights.
ORGANIZATIONS THAT HELP PROTECT RIGHTS
Should you come up against a legal suit, there are a number of organizations willing to help you, sometimes pro bono (for free). Contact any of the following organizations should you find yourself in a legal bind.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — The ACLU’s mission is to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Student Press Law Center (SPLC) — The SPLC offers legal advice to students. It works to provide information regarding what rights students have (which became limited after Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier) and give pro bono legal assistance if needed.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — This organization provides free legal resources, support, and advocacy to protect the First Amendment and freedom of information rights of journalists working in areas where U.S. law applies, regardless of the medium in which their work appears.
Online Media Legal Network (OMLN) — OMLN is willing to “provide pro bono (free) and reduced fee legal assistance to qualifying online journalism ventures and other digital media creators.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — EFF works to “ensure that the civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are applied to cutting edge communication technologies.”
Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund — This fund provided by SPJ serves to provide “journalists with legal or direct financial assistance.”
National Freedom of Information Coalition’s Knight FOI Fund — The NFOIC’s Knight FOI Fund “exists to offer financial support in open government lawsuits. It was established to fuel and assist the pursuit of important FOI cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions.”
Center for Constitutional Rights — “The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”