John Peter Zenger. Ring a bell? Perhaps not.
In 1734, Mr. Zenger published the first newspaper in New York. He believed strongly in the place of the free press in society. He also believed that the truth should be printed. He was arrested when he dared to published a number of articles critical of the government. He was accused of seditious libel. The following charge comes from the actual trial:
"That Board having had several of Zenger's New-York Weekly Journals, laid before them, and other scurrilous Papers, tending to alienate the Affections of the people of this Province from His Majesty's Government, to raise Seditions and Tumults among the People of this Province, and to fill their Minds with a Contempt of His Majesty's Government: And considering the pernicious Consequences that may attend such growing Evils, if not speedily and effectually put a Stop to. And conceiving that the most likely Method to put a Stop to such bold and seditious Practices, to maintain the Dignity of his Majesty's Government, and to preserve the Peace thereof ..."
The case against Zenger failed because it was argued that "Truth is an absolute defense for libel."
John Zenger's passion for printing the truth was later reflected in the U.S. Constitution in the First Amendment of what we call The Bill of Rights.
Several people on the Peninsula have complained to me that the Peninsula Clarion prints every letter I write but very few from other people. The reason the Clarion always prints my letters is that I take the time to write them and because I believe my point of view will encourage dialogue.
People read the letters of others and look forward to seeing their own letters printed. It matters because opinions are valuable. It is equally true that a free press must publish the letters it receives in order to remain truly free. Understand, however, that they are bound by the rules of ethics and propriety. Don't mistake good taste for censorship.
The voice of the people is the most important thing we have in this Constitutional Republic and the press is an indispensable vehicle to convey that voice. But if the voice of the people is silent, what then becomes of the Free Press? Indeed, of what use is a Free Press if the people have nothing more to say?
The Clarion has invited us to speak up and speak out. The Clarion has assured us all that it will publish our letters. The "soap box" of the Free Press is the means to open government and social dialogue. Do you believe your opinions are valuable? Try writing letters to the Clarion and see. Make John Peter Zenger be proud of you!
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