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New Legislation to Protect Freedom of the Press

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Does the public have a right to know what the government is doing?

Last week, the Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee approved Senate Bill 966, the Free Flow of Information Act, with a vote of 4-0 and has gone on to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill provides journalists with protection when pressured to reveal unnamed sources (like individuals in higher levels of government who finally listen to their conscious); however, a neutral party (a judge) can still look over the "unnamed" source.

Currently, Texas takes a "Lippman's" view on journalism and does not protect the free and unfettered media as stated under the laws of the First Amendment.

Since the 1920s, the differing views of Walter Lippmann, a writer, and American philosopher John Dewey have struggled to control the beast of information.

Lippmann believed journalists should act as a "mediator" or a "middle man (woman)" between the public and political bill-making elites. In his view, the public was not able to deconstruct the tornado of information twisting forth from the industrial age and growing to unimaginable proportions.

And so a filter was needed to relay the news.

"The public is not smart enough to understand complicated, political issues," he said. "Furthermore, the public was too consumed with their daily lives to care about complex public policy."

It is a view the government finds more favorable.

Dewey believed journalists should take the information and then analyze it, weighing the varying effects on the public. He thought shared knoweldge of the whole was superior to a single individual's knowledge.

According to the philosopher, "coversation, debate and dialouge lie at the heart of democracy."

This belief is known as "community journalism." And it is how society expects journalists to behave.

Journalists are the "watchdogs" of government, religion, businesses, entertainment and pretty much anything else that concerns the public.

In Bill Kovach and Tom Rosental's book "Elements of Journalism," journalists must follow nine rules to inform the public with the needed weaponry to make free and self-governing decisions: Obligation to truth, loyalty to the citizens, discipline of verification, maintain independence from those they cover; independent monitor of power, provide a forum for public criticism and compromise, strive to make the significant interesting and relevant, comprehensive and proportional news and to be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

During the early part of the 20th century (before the Internet), small newspapers around the country dominated the public's opinion with the journalists' power of persuasion and reported and promoted racial agenda and biased views.

Nowadays, large corporations like the Scripps Howard news service, located in Washington D.C., control several newspapers across the country like the Times Record News as well as an additional innumerable amount of newspaper outlets.

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