Half Moon Bay High School student Kacie Sorfleet took first place in the Lions Club speech contest this year with her thoughts on the importance of free speech. Here is an edited version of her speech.
Freedom of the press is a liberty that the Constitution sets forth and that our troops all over the world are fighting to defend. So, how do I benefit from freedom of the press?
I have social media accounts and I am free to post and caption and comment what I want and when I want to. Sure, it starts to get a little fuzzy here because, by using the app, Instagram for instance, I fall under the terms and conditions that I signed over to Instagram. But, the government does not limit what Instagram is putting out. It is clear to see that Twitter is definitely not curtailed by the government.
To understand what freedom of the press is now, I needed to understand its history, where it came from, what prompted it to become included in the Constitution and, most importantly, why it is so highly regarded and prized today.
Beginning in the 1780s our founding fathers developed and implemented the Constitution, which included the Bill of Rights. There, the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of the press. But interest in this freedom began long before American independence. Great Britain prohibited the publishing of information contrary to the ideas that the monarchy held, but letters calling out Great Britain’s suppressive rule led the way for Virginia to protect the press in 1776. Today, all of the reporters in the United States of America are protected by the First Amendment.
Today, reporters are the watchdog, the neighborhood nannies, the ombudsmen and the informant on governmental wrongdoings. Freedom of the press is so highly regarded because it helps us keep our freedoms and it helps the people stay informed.
Examples of exposés that journalists have been able to follow through with on the grounds of freedom of the press are the big ones like Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, but there are smaller publications every day that help make our society more transparent and informed.
We all must be aware that freedom of the press is a powerful tool. Reliable sites and cross-checking information is important, especially in a world where people react to stories faster than they can evaluate it from all angles. The internet delivers news stories instantly and may turn a self-defense story into a murder. Take, for instance, the news story about the teen who, at the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial, appeared to be taunting a Native American elder… or was he just trying to defuse a tense situation? Make sure you broaden your media search and look at the many sides of the story because the truth depends on where we stand in relation to it. Freedom of the press has created many different angles to find the most truthful truth.
America is a nation built of freedom and we should be forever thankful for it. But as I speak, there are people in other countries being tortured and killed over printing this information or that information that runs contrary to the government. So, at the end of the day, I can publish my speech, as long as I do not slander my neighbor and abuse a freedom that many don’t have the liberty to experience.
So, what does freedom of the press mean to me? It means I can express myself, my thoughts, my opinions, without fear of being silenced or censored, so long as I keep in mind that there are limitations to this freedom.