There is an underlying opinion in America that the press is biased, corrupted, swinging too far to the left or the right. That’s not an obscure idea. Fox News is known as being the conservative voice, while Republicans scoff at CNN and MSNBC. Journalism is no longer an unbiased resource; each station and publication have their own political skew.
This bias might just seem like a frustrating state of normalcy. This is not a minor concern. This bias is changing the ways that journalists report the news. Take for example CBS reporter Sharyl Atkisson. In 2007, Atkisson was the 18th most-used reporter for CBS, averaging 160 annual on-air minutes, and she retained this status until 2012. That year, she chose to turn her attention to the Benghazi controversy, covering in-depth stories into the politics behind how the attack was handled.
Due to her coverage and criticism of the controversy, Atkisson’s air time was sliced. She couldn’t get stories pushed through to production, and was forced to publish editorials and articles on the CBS website. Her computer and files were hacked multiple times by an unknown source. Finally, Atkisson quit. After a frustrated year of reporting in 2013, she had only had 54 minutes on-air.
In Atkisson’s case, her censorship was based on differing political views. This story isn’t an indictment of political parties, but it is an accurate representation of how biased news media has become. The politics behind stories like this are often blown off as “conspiracy theories,” but the subject of press freedom is not one that should be taken lightly.
There is one purpose for the press — to bring the truth to society. Journalism is a forum for information to be shared and ideas to be discussed. Yet in early February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was primed to begin a new study that would force monitors into newsrooms across the country in an attempt to evaluate the accuracy and appropriateness of reporting. The study was called the Multi-Market Study for Critical Information Needs (CIN), and it was a dangerous step towards censoring the press.
CIN should terrify every single American. USA Today reporter Rem Reider described CIN as “a boneheaded, intrusive initiative.” Yet CIN is more chilling than that. It has the ability to keep the press from publishing unbiased news. Placing government supervisors in newsrooms gives the government the control to stop or revise stories before they are even drafted. With that control, the public would be receiving information skewed to fit a politician or political party’s stance on issues.
Newsroom politics are already rampantly changing the ways that news is produced. The introduction of politicians and heavily biased government officials would only heighten the problem that programs such as CIN are attempting to remedy. By bringing more politics into the newsroom, government intervention would serve to deteriorate the already shaky trust Americans have in the press.
CIN would destroy the ability of the press to do one of their most important jobs: question the government. Think of the Trayvon Martin case. An African-American boy was killed; before press intervention, his killer was not tried. Publications such as the New York Times published the story front page, questioning local officials for “the quality and scope of the police work” and making it a national story that was brought to courts. The entire affair would not have been addressed without proactive journalism. It drove an important message — the press, and America, would not stand for veiled racism or injustice.
The Trayvon Martin case was a triumph for the power of a free press. Yet it is only one triumph. Press freedom in America is not perfect — it’s very far from it.
Yet although American frustration with the press is evident, the American press is still fairly free — especially in comparison to other countries. In Russia, multiple journalists have quit or voiced unscripted opinions on-air over controversies such as the Ukraine, due to Russian censorship over the topic. In Hong Kong, editors and media executives are under constant threat; just last month, two executives of a controversial publication were attacked and beaten with iron bars.
American journalists do not face rampant censorship or chilling violence. Yet politics are making their jobs even more difficult, and government censorship is yet another step towards crumbling into a biased and untrustworthy press.
Ultimately, freedom is necessary for the duty of the press. In a country of millions, it is easy for individual stories to be lost. The press gives voice to those individuals. Social media gives a majority of Americans access to unlimited information and the ability to voice their opinions. Yet there is no voice stronger, louder or more trustworthy than that of the press. Government intervention would take away that truth, that strength and that trust by skewing the voice of the press. The press must remain independent from the government, or the voice of the American individual will be lost.