History and media panel weighed in on current First Amendment controversies
A Columbus Metropolitan Club Forum about the first ammendment. Photo by Chantal Brown, Ohio Capital Journal
In order to understand the future of an American’s right to free speech, experts suggest looking towards the past.
In a forum held by the Columbus Metropolitan Club last Wednesday, Mike Thompson moderated a panel discussion with professionals in the media and academic fields about ways that the First Amendment is being challenged now and where that leaves the state of journalism in the future. Panelists also contemplated the impact social media platforms have for the spread of misinformation.
“There was a very partisan press at the founding of the country. Much of the tone, the content that was printed then would seem disturbingly familiar today. But what has transformed now is how ubiquitous it is and how many people it has reached in the culture including those who are kids,” panelist David Stebenne said.
Stebenne is a professor of history and law at Ohio State University. He considered the intentions that colonialists had when they first crafted the Bill of Rights.
“They wrote it in response to abuses during the period when the British government ran the thirteen colonies. This was not a certain list of things that dealt with hypothetical problems,” Stebenne said.
Mike Thompson, the moderator for the panel, outlined how the First Amendment has been flexed and interpreted over time. He used examples such as the ability to say hateful things or for journalists to say false things about elected officials without facing consequences.
Mike Thompson is the Chief Content Director of News and Public Affairs, at WOSU Public Media.
“The difference is now that protected speech does not have to wait for the daily newspaper to arrive on your doorstep. It doesn’t have to wait for the six o’ clock news. It’s immediate. It’s published by millions, it is shared by millions more. Had the founders foreseen this, would the First Amendment be any different, do you believe,” Thompson asked.
As the panel agreed how information is widely available to everyone, panelist Andrew Alexander, a Scripps Howard Visiting Professional at Ohio University, said that there is a surprising amount that people did not know.
“There was a famous survey, probably about 2018 that found among college students and senior high school students that more students could name the five key characters of the Simpsons than they could the five freedoms of the First Amendment. That’s pretty scary,” Alexander said.
Eddith Dashiell also has experience working with students. As a professor and director of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, she said she emphasizes the importance of everyone protecting the First Amendment even if they are not in the media industry.
“I don’t think there should be one person or one group deciding ‘Yes you can say that, no you can’t say that.’ That’s censorship. That does violate the First Amendment.” Dashiell said.
The panel concluded with an agreement that more people need to know how to fact check the media that they are presented with. They also foresee things getting worse before it gets better.
“Education alone, I don’t think can cope with where we are at the moment,” Stebenne said.
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