"The Zenger case planted the seeds that flowered a half-century later in the First Amendment," noted The Times. "It destroyed the pernicious doctrine that criticism of government is seditious even if true. And it showed how juries, backed by public opinion, can enlarge the spirit of the law."
The Times went on: "Across the ages, then, an added toast: to the Zenger jury, for registering the public's understanding of a vital yet always difficult American idea--that the freedom of the press to challenge authority and convey complaints of the citizenry is indispensable in a free society."
Professor Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law has written that "no case in American history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German immigrant printer named John Peter Zenger."
Press freedom, unfortunately, is not the way of the world, far from it. I point my students to the superb journal Index on Censorship which since 1972 has battled for free speech. With its home in Great Britain, Index on Censorship emphasizes how "we fight for free speech around the world, challenging censorship whenever and wherever it occurs. Index uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists, writers, social media users, bloggers, artists, politicians, scientists, academics, activists and citizens. Index believes that free expression is the foundation of a free society and endorses Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression"
And Index on Censorship provides a rundown of actions around the globe limiting free expression--and in so many countries totally suppressing it. Its informative website is at www.indexoncensorship.org/
Ever since Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press nearly 600 years ago now, there have been many in power threatened by people able to communicate freely, and they have worked hard to prevent that. The Zenger trial was a very bright event on a continually difficult journey.
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