Government media infringes on First Amendment

Corey Fischer | Student Columnist

America. Land of the free, home of the brave. The land of opportunity. For the past two centuries we have clung to ideals and practices that have made us these things, and we have been very careful to preserve the freedoms and rights we as Americans have so that they are not taken away from us under any circumstances.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, one of the more memorable and recognizable amendments, is a prime example of this. The First Amendment gives us freedom to practice whatever religion we choose, freedom to assemble and protest, freedom to petition our government, freedom to say whatever our hearts desire, and to have a free and independent press. And indeed America has become a land of all those things.

This is a nation where Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Sikhs and Buddhists and members of a thousand different religions worship openly without fear of arrest or persecution by their government; a land where peaceful demonstrations and petitions are common and used to inspire dramatic change within our society; a land where everyone speaks their mind even if they offend someone; and a land where newspapers and television news stations and online news sources can publish whatever they want, whenever they want.

But while all these things are true, a look at Indiana politics in recent weeks reveals how fragile these rights, which we have always taken advantage of and taken for granted, truly are.

Late last month, Gov Mike Pence (R – Indiana) seen as a frontrunner for his party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election, announced the creation of a state-run news source designed as a way for his administration to circumvent traditional media outlets and break stories before these news sources would be able to.

This news source, cleverly named “Just-IN,” would function as a direct link between the administration and the people of Indiana and publish stories on the governor, his administration, activities, proposals, and press releases, and would be run entirely by Governor Pence and his aides.

While the notion of state-run media existing in the United States seems like a conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare, the truth is that state-run media is not just something that happens in far-off countries with oppressive regimes like China, North Korea and Iran, but is also something that has existed in the U.S. for quite some time. The State of Illinois runs the Illinois Government News Network, which drafts and publishes press releases in a news format, and the federal government runs Voice of America, a media outlet that broadcasts news outside of the country exclusively. What is different about “Just-IN,” however, is a much more concerted effort to guide the public’s views on Mike Pence and his administration by supplanting the media.

When done right, as in the case of the Illinois Government News Network and Voice of America, state-run media can be an important way for the government to provide us with information other news outlets would not normally report on without infringing on the established and revered free news network that has made America a land of freedom.

“Just-IN’ is a threat to all of that; a big government, freedom-grabbing policy coming from a politician who has become one of the standard-bearers of the party opposed to any and every expansion of the government.

What Pence has done in creating “Just-IN” is nothing short of masterful political timing and manipulation. This news source, masking as an outlet for the people, is Pence’s way of both controlling what is being said about him, and of getting positive media coverage early on in a presidential primary season where a dark horse like Pence will need every bit of media coverage he can get to whether political loudmouth heavyweights like Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Chris Christie.

In 2005, during his second term in Congress, Pence said, “”as a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.” A decade later and with his eye on the presidency, Pence has thrown that to the wind in favor of his lofty political ambitions and created what would function more as a proto-campaign than a state-run site intent on “linking the people [of Indiana] with state government.”

What Governor Pence has tried to do in Indiana should remind us all of how important free media is to America and to all of us. “Just-IN” could have easily been created here in Pennsylvania, or even on the federal level. His own words stand true today. The only check on government power and authority is a free and independent press that disseminates information to the people directly and without government influence. This free press often times keeps us informed when our leaders would rather see us in the dark and their secrets hidden.

We are lucky to live in a nation where anyone with an idea or an opinion or the will to report the news can do that without restriction. The day we sit back and take that for granted is the day that institution dies.