Why Does a Free Press Matter?70 min
- Students will understand a free press is essential for self-government.
- Students will understand a free press empowers citizens to seek out multiple points of view on issues and make informed choices.
- Students will understand a free press empowers citizens to make informed decisions about candidates for public office.
- Brainstorm key issues in a current or upcoming national election. Keep a list on the board as ideas are generated.
- For each issue, write at least one question about candidates to determine their approach to the issue. Encourage students to focus their questions on the constitutional role (Senator, Representative, President, etc). If needed, review the Constitution. For example:
- What is [candidate’s] approach to policy-making?
- What would be the criteria [candidate] would use to appoint or approve Supreme Court justices (Senate/President)?
- What does [candidate] believe should be the federal government’s approach to the economy?
- How did [candidate] conduct himself when he or she was a in a different role in government?
- Decide on the best questions, and have students write them down in the left-hand column of Handout B: A Free Press and the Candidates.
- Note: For this part of the activity, students should all work with the same set of questions.
- As a class, go to each of the different sources on Handout B and answer each of the questions. As students complete the handout, discuss the differences between the different news sources. Discuss how peoples’ opinions about issues might be different if they only had access to one type of news source.
- Alternate activity: Have students work individually or in pairs to research answers to a single question from all of the sources. For example, have a pair find out the answer to “Where do you stand on the use of drone surveillance of American citizens?” using the candidate’s website, a mainstream media source, a left- and right-of-center blog, and by calling or writing to the candidate’s office. Then have them answer the question, “How would you summarize the differences in the information you received from these various sources?”
- As a class, discuss the following questions as a large group.
- What does it mean for a candidate to be “vetted” before an election?
- What is the role of a free press in vetting candidates?
- Who else participates in vetting candidates?
- Why is it important to seek out multiple points of view on candidates for public office?
- How would our lives be different if the only information citizens could access from candidates came from the candidates’ campaigns?
- Point out to students how an election is just one event, and that American citizenship requires that they remain informed on political issues. It is critical that citizens are free to publish their ideas and read the ideas of others in order for self-government to succeed. Discuss the following questions as a large group.
- How would our lives be different if the only information citizens could access from candidates – and other matters of public concern – came from official, state-run media?
- How would our lives be different if the only available information about government came from state-run media?
- Can people govern themselves without press freedom?
- Have students imagine they are explaining press freedom to a friend living in another country where independent news is censored and only state-run media is allowed to exist. They should complete the activity on Handout C: Letter from a Friend.
- Have students do research to understand what political life is like in nations which do not have a free press. Students may begin their research at Reporters Without Borders or Freedom House. Questions students should consider:
- What are some differences between a free press and state-run media?
- Should journalists be protected from having to reveal their sources in criminal cases where information is illegally leaked?
- Everyone has the right to speak freely and publish one’s ideas. Is there also a right to receive information? How, if at all, are these concepts different?