Who decides when the press has gone too far?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

From a legal perspective, the U.S. Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of the scope of First Amendment freedoms. Supreme Court opinions therefore are especially important in First Amendment jurisprudence. In the last 80 years, for example, the Court has defined the extent to which the First Amendment protects the news media from suits for libel [Hyperlink to Defamation topic] and invasion of privacy [Hyperlink to Privacy topic], established the media’s right to observe court proceedings [Hyperlink to Access to Courts and Documents topic] and erected high barriers that protect the media from governmental prior restraint [Hyperlink to Prior Restraint topic]. In cases that do not reach the U.S. Supreme Court, juries, trial judges and appellate judges often decide whether the media’s conduct is outside the scope of First Amendment protections.

From a practical standpoint, consumers of news and information decide when the press has gone too far. All news media depend upon readers, viewers and/or listeners to survive, and if enough consumers choose not to patronize an outlet that, in their opinion, has gone too far, that outlet will have to either adjust its conduct or cease operation.