ZACHARY: Promising transparency doesn't make it so

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Journalism is crucial for liberty. 

The media has an important role as the eyes, ears and voice of the people.

The media has historically been viewed through the prism of its important role as the Fourth Estate, holding government in check and shining the light on all the actions of our governors. 

That is the very intention of the First Amendment.

The wording of the First Amendment is not complicated.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The freedom of the press is every bit as American as the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. 

Every day, journalists are interviewing lawmakers at the state capitol, covering county commission or school board meetings, writing editorials challenging a tax increase by local government  or maybe covering a football game or a school play. 

Each of these local journalists covering the things happening in the community, is someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister or cousin. They are not enemies of the people or the purveyors of fake news. 

They are truth tellers whose only desire is to serve their community. 

They hold government accountable because they believe it is their calling, their duty and essential for good governance. 

Though smaller than it has been historically, an intelligent, thoughtful, professional corps of journalists covers state government in Atlanta. 

For the most part, the relationship between those journalists, state representatives, state senators and the governor’s administration has been professional and even cordial. 

At the end of the 2019 legislative session, a handful of state lawmakers targeted journalists wanting to regulate the media and hold the press in check. The First Amendment was intended to prevent government from trying to control the press. 

In fact, it is the press that must hold government in check. 

Surely, most state lawmakers know that state government must have no role in regulating, or attempting to regulate, the press. 

An open, free and unfettered press protects us all. 

That does not mean journalists never make mistakes, ask bad questions or even behave badly. 

Of course, journalists make mistakes. 

A mistake is a mistake, and in no way means the news is fake or not trustworthy. 

Freedom exists because of a free press, not in spite of it. 

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas newspapers and editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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