Daily Herald editors discuss First Amendment
Does the United States have a free press?
Yes, mostly, but less than some countries, Daily Herald editors said Wednesday night during the last of five "Facts Matter" community conversations produced by the newspaper and hosted by Northwest Suburban High School District 214.
The United States ranked 45th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders. Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands ranked at the top, while Cuba, China and Syria were in the bottom 10. North Korea ranked last.
People have "fairly good access" to public information in the United States but there are some obstacles when dealing with the courts and county government, and particularly when dealing with the General Assembly and U.S. Congress, Daily Herald Editor John Lampinen said.
No matter the challenges, the role of the press is to foster debate by monitoring government and acting as a watchdog, Lampinen said. "The press is here to provide a thorny check on power. It may not always be right or always pleasant, but it's a necessary component," he said.
Lampinen and Jim Slusher, the Daily Herald's deputy managing editor for opinion, led the wide-ranging discussion about the First Amendment as a protector of democracy, including whether certain speech should be prohibited and whether cable news personalities can say whatever they want.
"There are speakers who've been forbidden to speak on campuses," Slusher said. "How can we say we have freedom of speech if our universities, of all places, won't allow them to speak?"
According to the Freedom Forum Institute, 23 percent of Americans surveyed in 2018 believe the First Amendment -- which guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly -- goes too far, while the vast majority, or 74 percent, disagreed. And yet 70 percent of respondents, more among young people, agreed a speaker whose remarks would incite violence or threaten public safety should have an invitation retracted.
Previous Facts Matter topics included recognizing bias in the news, spotting fake news, whether to trust photos and videos, and the workings of a news organization. Schaumburg resident Charles Falk, who attended all but one of the events, said he was impressed by their breadth and detail.
"The challenges for papers, and any news, is to conduct themselves so you give us no reason not to believe what you are doing. You do this by avoiding bias and getting it right," Falk said.
It's imperative for everyone, not just the news media, to be actively engaged in seeking the truth and challenge their own views, Lampinen said.
"We say in the news that it's important for us be skeptical -- not cynical," he said. "That is a message we give to all of you, and we hope that everyone in the country with follow."