Southeast Missouri State University student publication

First Amendment integrity is focus of lecture

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Can you seperate news from fake news?

Professor of Mass Media Tamara Zellars Buck and Department of Mass Media Chair Pam Parry discussed American’s protected First Amendment rights in relationship to “fake news” in an interactive presentation held at Grauel’s Forrest H. Rose Theatre on Sept. 9.

“There’s a lot of really good journalism practice today, and the term ‘fake news’ is thrown around in order to attempt to delegitimize that,” Parry said. “I’m not going to attach that to any specific person, party or activist group, but when you hear ‘fake news,’ it’s often used to dismiss the news out of hand, while it’s often an accurate news story.”

Parry added the term “fake news” is not new — discreditation of news writers dates back to Henry VIII, who tried to invalidate claims concerning his marriages.

Parry said the first incident of free speech violation by the American government came with the Alien and Sedition Act during President John Adams’ term, only a few years after the founding of those rights. She said citizens are often willing to trade liberties for security.

“Fear of war is not a reason to give up everything we’ve fought for,” Parry said.

The term “fake news” resurfaced in 2016, often describing credible news stories that disagreed with a certain viewpoint.

Additionally, Parry said biased or incorrect news written by untrained journalists or simply social media users can blur the lines between professional journalism and fake Facebook posts, further perpetuating the “fake news” rhetoric.

New fears arise that claims of “fake news” will erode the integrity of First Amendment Rights. While integrity in all areas is important, Parry said understanding these basic rights is especially vital.

“We want to maintain the integrity of the First Amendment,” Parry said. “We need to understand where our freedoms come from, or we could lose them.”

During the Integrity Week event, Buck led an activity demonstrating the importance of protecting all First Amendment rights. She asked students to assemble on either side of the theater based on which basic right they felt is most important.

Students split fairly evenly between the freedom of religion and freedom of speech, with Parry choosing the freedom of press “in principle.”

Buck then presented a challenge: if one of the five rights were eliminated, which should be the first to go? Several students defended freedom of religion, while others said freedom of speech allows for other rights to function.

This sparked a discussion: would any right be able to stand without the others? Southeast senior Tom Oleson said he doesn’t think so.

“How can you have religion without freedom of assembly?” Oleson asked, “You can’t have meetings, can’t go to church, anything like that.”

Buck especially emphasized the importance of protecting democracy through maintaining the integrity of all First Amendment rights. As freedom of the press and freedom of speech relies on providing a “marketplace of ideas,” it is vital to democracy, Buck said. Using the phrase “fake news” to discredit credible news sources can threaten the integrity of these rights.

“The integrity of journalism relies in many ways on the other freedoms,” Buck said. “If we allowed this concept of ‘fake news’ to erode the protections for free press, it would be so much easier for the other protections to erode.”