Editorial Talking Maryland Politics 

The Role of the Fourth Estate

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tmdp-adMedia has always played a significant role in shaping the course of politics and its freedom to report is critical to a democratic society.

Recent events and subsequent reactions to them should lead to a serious review and discussion pertaining to the freedom of expression right enjoyed by media in democratic countries.

Prior to the release of a comedy based on the assignation of the leader of Korea, a cyber attack on the producer of the movie took place.

The perpetrator behind the cyber attacks released embarrassing emails that in addition to other private information, contained salacious details on various stars employed by the studio.

Furthermore, the perpetrator threatened harm to movie goers if the movie was released.

As a result, the studio canceled the release.

Understandably, social media and 24/7 cable broadcast news went into overdrive when the studio canceled the scheduled release.

President Obama, who announced North Korea was behind the cyber attacks, imposed additional targeted sanctions on that country.

The horrific dual terrorist actions in France where separate gunmen targeted employees of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and shoppers in a Jewish grocery store, resulted in even more coverage on the importance of freedom of the press.

The victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings were done by the hands of two terrorists. Immediate speculation by media was repeated satirical defamation of their prophet Mohamed by the publication led to the terrorists opening fire during an editorial meeting.

The shooting of a police officer and several shoppers at a Jewish market was done by apparently a lone gunman, a terrorist who claimed allegiance to “ISIS”.

Defending freedom of speech has a long history in the United States.

However parameters surrounding freedom of speech have evolved in the U.S. with judicial decisions attempting to bring definition.

For instance, an individual does not have the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded movie theater.

The right to peacefully assemble has been upheld with a caveat an individual does not have the right to incite a riot.

Defamation of character of an individual by the media also has numerous case law decisions attempting to define what is acceptable.

For instance, public officials or individuals well known by the public are more or less, fair game for commentary, malicious slander an exception.

Part of the history of the media in America includes a dark period when sensational driven media were branded by the term “yellow journalism”.

A slapstick movie on an attempted assignation of the leader of North Korea is not a movie I would go see.

Nor, have I any interest in viewing cartoons lambasting a religious leader.

Yet, the rights of the Fourth Estate are paramount for civilized societies and should always be protected from any assault.

However, just as what transpired after “yellow journalism” gave media a bad name, perhaps it is again time for serious discussion on what is responsible journalism in traditional media and social media.

Stay tuned.

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