Topic: Should the press be allowed to lie under the First Amendment?
In today’s day and age, the press is more focused on selling a story to make money rather than informing the public with real news. More often than not, this means lying or “stretching the truth” to make stories more appealing. For decades, people have been debating whether or not the press should be able to lie under the First Amendment. While there are laws prohibiting libel, there are still many libel cases reported every year since it is difficult to prove libel.
In order to win a libel case today, you must be able to prove that the editor or publisher made false statements knowing them to be untrue or that they were acting with malice. This became a rule after one of the most famous libel cases in history, the 1964 case: New York Times Company v. Sullivan. This case began after the New York Times published an ad requested donations to bail Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail. After reading the ad, Public Safety Commissioner, L.B. Sullivan found that the false information in the article was harmful to the reputation of his team. Sullivan was eventually rewarded $500,000, but that was not the end of this case. After reconsidering the case, Justice William Brennan concluded that under the First and Fourteenth amendments, Sullivan could only prevail a libel suit if he was able to prove that the publisher was acting with malice and intentional falsity. Following this case, libel laws were adjusted to focus on protecting an honestly earned reputation rather than getting compensation for a damaged reputation.
While libel laws have gotten much clearer over the years, there are still issues today that amount from lies published by the press. In a recent poll conducted by Monmouth University, research found that three out of four Americans believe that the media routinely reports fake news. If we can’t rely on the media to report accurate news, then how are we supposed to be aware of what is happening around us? Personally, I believe that our current libel laws have appropriate guidelines, but the punishments are not large enough. I agree with our current laws that require people to prove malicious intent in order to win a libel case. If this was not required, people would sue for libel just because they do not agree with a post. Time and time again, celebrities sue reporting agencies for defamation, but reporting agencies continue to publish lies. If our libel laws had harsher punishments, then maybe news companies would stop publishing fake news. I understand that news companies need to make their stories interesting to attract readers, but they should not be allowed to stretch the truth when it means harming somebody else’s reputation. There is a line between publishing fake news and posting your personal opinion. I believe that individuals should be able to post their opinions online as long as they do not have malicious intent. The goal of stricter libel laws would not be to stop people from sharing their opinions, but rather stopping people from posting misleading and/or harmful information.
The United States is known for protecting freedom of speech under the First Amendment, but there are limitations to this freedom. I believe that our current libel laws allow people to post what they want online, but that can result in defaming statements and accusations. Our libel laws are important to protect us, but they should have stronger punishments in order to protect reputations by preventing the press from publishing harmful articles in the first place. Some small adjustments to our current laws can result in a future with accurate news that is free of harmful comments.
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