Right/Freedom of the Press/History

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Freedom of the Press

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What is the oldest source in any country that mentions this right? + create

What historical forces or events, if any, contributed to a widespread belief in its importance? 🖉 edit

Within the thirteen colonies before the American Revolution, the government did not allow free press. Rather, any form of print had to have a government granted license. The government's initial opposition to free press stemmed from the printing of the first American newspaper in Boston in 1690 called, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick. The British government wanted to censor American media for fear of the spread of unfavorable information. Following the disallowance of Publick Occurrences, it was 14 years until another American newspaper was published. The governor of Virginia at the time, Sir William Berkeley, wrote, “I thank God, we have not free schools nor printing; and I hope we shall not have these hundred years. For learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world; and printing has divulged them and libels the government” (Kahane 1976, 203). Likewise, English law strongly opposed freedom of the press.

A major contribution to the shift to a widespread belief in the importance of freedom of the press in the United States was Cato’s Letters, a series of essays written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon between 1720 and 1723 (Trenchard & Gordon 1724) . The essays consisted of revolutionary political ideas that largely criticized the British government. Cato viewed human nature as rooted in selfishness, suggesting that political decisions were too often made in the deciders best interest, not necessarily that of the public. For this reason, Cato emphasized the need for human rights and liberty as a check against the power of officials in order to avoid the oppression of some. He emphasized the need to fight against tyranny and corruption. While acknowledging the risks of libel, he endorsed citizen rights to free speech and free press. He believed that all citizens should have the ability to criticize the government accurately. The alternative- restricting freedom of the press, he suggested, would be beneficial only for the corrupt (McDaniel). Cato wrote, “There are some truths not fit to be told...But this doctrine only holds true as to private and personal failings; and it is quite otherwise when the crimes of men come to affect the publick” (Trenchard & Gordon 1724) . Cato’s Letters were one of the most familiar essays of time, with people commonly referring to them as a justification and a defense of the rights they deserved, allowing the idea of freedom of the press to gain momentum. The essays were crucial to understanding the importance of and the meaning of the First Amendment, which stemmed from the Virginia Declaration of Rights (Bogen 1983, 446).

Another contributing event was the trial of John Peter Zenger, a printer in New York. In 1733, Zenger printed the New York Weekly Journal. The journal criticized the British royal governor of New York, William S. Cosby, accusing him of rigging elections and other corruption. While Zenger did not write the journal, he was sent to jail and accused of libel, which at the time meant publishing information in opposition to the government. At trial, Zenger was represented by Andrew Hamilton. While Hamilton admitted that Zenger did print the journal, he invoked a new principle, that libel was not punishable if true. Hamilton was able to convince the jury of Zenger’s innocence on the grounds that they could not prove that the content of his publication was false (Kahane 1976, 205). The verdict of the case did not have any serious impact on legal precedent because according to the specifics of the case, the jury ruled that Zenger had not printed the journal, even though Hamilton confessed that much. However, the trial did have the immediate effect of an increase in the amount of political satires printed, specifically those opposed to or critiquing some aspect of the government. This put pressure on less popular officials and increased the relative power of journalists (Olson, 2000) .

More broadly, as for the world’s first law guaranteeing freedom of the press in Sweden, Sweden’s intellectual climate and institutional structure allowed for the adoption of ideas that were more radical at the time. Within Sweden, as in Western parts of the world, there was a spread of liberal theory. Liberal theory values the individual as necessary within society and politics. Likewise, liberal theory recognizes the need for change over time in order to advance and improve society. In combination with Sweden’s institutional structure, Sweden could more easily advance new laws (Nordin 2017, 139). At the time, the Diet: four estates including the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and the peasantry, along with opposing political parties: the Hats and the Caps, ran political discussions and had political power. Around sixty percent of adult males would participate in political decisions. The executive, the Council of the Realm, would act according to the Diet. Sweden saw the greatest citizen participation in politics of any country in Europe. Therefore, unlike in other areas of Europe or the world at the time, citizens were more able to advance their own interests, which resulted in greater liberties pertaining to freedom of the press and free speech (Nordin 2017, 140).

What is the oldest written source in this country that mentions this right?


Afghanistan 🖉 edit

Article 31 of the 1964 Afghanistan Constitution states that “every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution” (University of Nebraska, “Constitution of Afghanistan,” 1964) . Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities. Directives related to the press, radio and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by law.” This clause is now located in Article 34 of the 2004 Afghanistan Constitution (Constitute Project, “Afghanistan’s Constitution of 2004” ).


1964 Afghanistan Constitution: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=afghanenglish

2004 Afghanistan Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Afghanistan_2004?%20lang=en

Albania 🖉 edit

According to Article 197 of the 1928 Fundamental Statute of the Kingdom of Albania: "Freedom of speech and of the press is guaranteed, and a censorship may not be instituted, except in case of war mobilisation or other extraordinary event defined by the law. The regulation of the press, the confiscation of press matter and the prosecution of the press are determined by law."

Article 53 of the 1976 Albanian Constitution states that “citizens enjoy the freedom of speech, the press, organization, association, assembly and public manifestation. The state guarantees the realization of these freedoms, it creates the conditions for them, and makes available the necessary material means” (“The Albanian Constitution of 1976) .

Today, Part 2, Article 22 of the 1998 Albanian Constitution recognizes freedom of the press, radio, and television as part of its list of “Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms”. Article 22 also states that “Prior censorship of means of communication is prohibited” (Constitute Project, Albania's Constitution of 1998 with Amendments through 2012” ).


1928 Fundamental Statute of the Kingdom of Albania: https://www.hoelseth.com/royalty/albania/albconst19281201.html

Albania Constitution (1976): https://data.globalcit.eu/NationalDB/docs/ALB%20The%20Constitution%20of%20the%20Peoples%20Socialist%20Republic%20of%20Albania%201976.pdf

Albania Constitution (1998): https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Albania_2016?lang=en.

Algeria 🖉 edit

Article 19 of the 1963 Algerian Constitution states that “the Republic guarantees freedom of the press and of other means of information, freedom of association, freedom of speech and public intervention, and freedom of assembly” (Middle East Journal, 1963) .

Today, Article 54 of the Algerian Constitution protects freedom of the press, stating that “freedom of the press, be it written, audiovisual, or on media networks, shall be guaranteed equally for all public and private media outlets. It shall not be restricted by any form of prior censorship” (Constitute Project, “Algeria 2020” ).


“The Algerian Constitution.” The Middle East journal 17, no. 4 (1963): 446–450.

“Algeria 2020 Constitution.” Constitute. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Algeria_2020?lang=en.

Andorra 🖉 edit

Article 12 of the 1993 Andorran Constitution states that Freedoms of expression, of communication and of information are guaranteed. The law shall regulate the right of reply, the right of correction and professional secrecy” (Constitute Project, “Andorra’s 1993 Constitution”).


Angola 🖉 edit

Article 35 of the 1992 Constitution marked Angola’s first explicit legal mention of freedom of the press: “Freedom of the press shall be guaranteed and may not be subject to any censorship, especially political, ideological or artistic. The manner of the exercise of freedom of the press and adequate provisions to prevent and punish any abuse thereof shall be regulated by law” (“Constitutional Law of the Republic of Angola 1992” ).

Today, Article 44 of the 2010 Angolan Constitution maintains that “freedom of the press shall be guaranteed, and may not be subject to prior censorship, namely of a political, ideological or artistic nature” (Constitute Project, “Angola’s 2010 Constitution”).


1992 Angola Constitution: https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/Angola%20Constitution.pdf

2010 Angola Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Angola_2010

Antigua and Barbuda 🖉 edit

Schedule 1, Chapter II of Antigua and Barbuda’s Constitution titled “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual” explicitly protects freedom of the press (Political Database of the Americas, “The Antigua and Barbuda Constitutional Order 1981” ).


“Republic of Antigua and Barbuda / República Del Antigua y Barbuda Constitution of 1981 Constituciones De 1981.” Antigua and Barbuda: Constitution, 1981: https://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Antigua/antigua-barbuda.html.

Argentina 🖉 edit

According to Article 161 of the 1826 Argentina Constitution, "The liberty of publishing his ideas through the medium of the Press, which is a right as valuable to Man, as it is essential to the preservation of civil liberty, shall be fully guaranteed by the Laws"

Article 32 of the 1853 Argentinian Constitution states that “the Federal Congress shall not enact laws that restrict the freedom of the press or that establish federal jurisdiction over it” (Constitute Project, “Argentina's Constitution of 1853, Reinstated in 1983, with Amendments through 1994” ).


Constitution of the Argentine Republic, 1826, English translation of the original Constitution of 1826. 956 (2010) Section VIII: General Regulations: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzar0004&id=15&collection=cow&index=

“Argentina 1853 (Reinst. 1983, Rev. 1994) Constitution.” Constitute: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Argentina_1994?lang=en

Armenia 🖉 edit

The 1990 Declaration of Independence of Armenia guaranteed freedom of the press. Article 24 of the 1995 Constitution of Armenia asserted freedoms relevant to freedom of the press: "Everyone is entitled to assert his or her opinion. No one shall be forced to retract or change his or her opinion. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, including the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any medium of information, regardless of state borders." After amendment in 2005, additional language relevant to freedom of the press was added to the Constitution of Armenia: "Freedom of mass media and other means of mass information shall be guaranteed. The state shall guarantee the existence and activities of an independent and public radio and television service offering a variety of informational, cultural and entertaining programs." Article 42 of the Constitution of Armenia after amendment in 2015 state the right explicitly: "The freedom of the press, radio, television and other means of information shall be guaranteed. The State shall guarantee the activities of independent public television and radio offering diversity of informational, educational, cultural and entertainment programmes."


Armenian Declaration of Independence: https://www.gov.am/en/independence/

"Constitution of the Republic of Armenia" (1995): http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=2425&lang=eng

"Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (with the Amendments of 27 November 2005)": http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=1&lang=eng

"Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia" (2015): http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=5805&lang=eng

Australia 🖉 edit

Australia has no formal protection of press freedom in its constitution (Australian Human Rights Commission). Australia’s High Court has ruled that an “implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensable part of the system of representative government created by the Constitution” in Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills (1992), Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v the Commonwealth (1992), and Unions NSW v New South Wales (2013).


“Freedom of Information, Opinion and Expression.” The Australian Human Rights Commission: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/freedom-information-opinion-and-expression

Austria 🖉 edit

Article 13 of Austria’s 1867 “Basic Law on the General Rights of Nationals in the Kingdoms and Länder represented in the Council of the Realm” states that “Everyone has the right within the limits of the law freely to express his opinion by word of mouth and in writing, print, or pictorial representation. The Press may be neither subjected to censorship nor restricted by the licensing System. Administrative postal distribution vetoes do not apply to inland publication” (Basic Law of 21 December 1867) .


1867 Basic Law: https://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/au03000_.html

Azerbaijan 🖉 edit

Article 50 of the Azerbaijan Constitution of 1995 states “The freedom of mass media is guaranteed. State censorship of mass media, including print media, is forbidden” (Constitute Project, “Azerbaijan's Constitution of 1995 with Amendments through 2016” ).


“Azerbaijan 1995 (rev. 2016).” Constitute. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Azerbaijan_2016

Blaustein, Albert P., and Gisbert H. Flanz. Constitutions of the Countries of the World; a Series of Updated Texts, Constitutional Chronologies and Annotated Bibliographies. "Azerbaijan Republic, Booklet 2, 1996" Permanent ed. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y: Oceana Publications, 1971.

Bahrain 🖉 edit

Article 24 of the 1973 Bahraini Constitution states that “Freedom of the press, printing and publication shall be guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and procedure specified by the law.”


1973 Constitution: https://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ba01000_.html

Bangladesh 🖉 edit

Article 39 of the 1972 Bangladesh Constitution states that “(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed. (2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-(a) the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed."



Barbados 🖉 edit

Barbados’s 1966 Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of the press, but includes freedom to “receive” and “communicate ideas and information without interference” in its protection of freedom of expression (Political Database of the Americas, “Constitution of 1966” ).



Belarus 🖉 edit

Article 33 of Belarus’s 1994 Constitution bans censorship and mass media monopolies, whether state mass media monopolies or otherwise





Belgium 🖉 edit

Article 23 of the 27 October 1830 Draft Constitution of Belgium states that “The press is free. Censorship [la censure] should never be established, and cautioning of writers, editors or printers may not be demanded.”


English translation of the French text of the draft of the constitution of 27 October 1830 35 (2009): https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbe0096&id=5&men_tab=srchresults

Belize 🖉 edit

Belize’s 1981 Constitution states that “nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes reasonable provision… that is required for the purpose of… maintaining the authority and independence of the courts or regulating the administration or the technical operation of telephone, telegraphy, posts, wireless broadcasting, television or other means of communication, public exhibitions or public entertainments” (Constitute Project, “Belize's Constitution of 1981 with Amendments through 2011” ).


Benin 🖉 edit

Benin protects freedom of the press under Article 24 of its 1990 Constitution: “Freedom of the press shall be recognized and guaranteed by the State. It shall be protected by the High Authority of Audio-Visuals and Communications under the conditions fixed by an organic law” (Constitute Project, “Benin's Constitution of 1990” ).

Bhutan 🖉 edit

Article 7, Section 5 of Bhutan’s 2008 Constitution protects freedom of the press: “There shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic” (Constitute Project, “Bhutan's Constitution of 2008” ).


Bhutan 2008 Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bhutan_2008

Bolivia 🖉 edit

Protection of press freedom is located in Article 106, Section III of the 2009 Bolivian Constitution: “The State guarantees freedom of expression and the right to communication and information to workers of the press” (Constitute Project, “Bolivia (Plurinational State of)'s Constitution of 2009” ).

Bosnia and Herzegovina 🖉 edit

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitution does not formally protect freedom of the press. However, Article 4 of the 2002 Law on Communications recognizes freedom of expression across broadcasting and telecommunications (Office of the High Representative, “Law on Communications of Bosnia and Herzegovina”).

Botswana 🖉 edit

Chapter II, Section 12, subsection 2 of the 1966 Botswana Constitution states that “Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision…regulating the technical administration or the technical operation of telephony, telegraphy, posts, wireless, broadcasting or television” (Constitute Project, “Botswana's Constitution of 1966 with Amendments through 2005” ).

Brazil 🖉 edit

Article 179, Section IV of Brazil’s 1824 Constitution originally protected press freedom: “Everyone can communicate their thoughts, in words, in writing, and publish them in the Press, without dependence on censorship; as long as they will have to answer for the abuses that commit in the exercise of this Right, in the cases, and for the form, that the Law determines” (Political Database of the Americas, “ 1824 Constitution”).

Today, press freedom is protected under Chapter I, Article 5 of the 1988 Constitution: “expression of intellectual, artistic, scientific, and communication activity is free, independent of any censorship or license” (Constitute Project, “Brazil's Constitution of 1988 with Amendments through 2017” ).

Brunei 🖉 edit

The Brunei Constitution contains no protections for freedom of the press and grants the government powers for “censorship, the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication” in states of emergency” (Constitute Project, “Brunei Darussalam's Constitution of 1959 with Amendments through 2006” ).

Bulgaria 🖉 edit

The first mention of freedom of the press appeared in Article VIII of the 1879 Tarnovo Constitution: “The press is free. No censorship is allowed, and no pledge is required of writers, publishers and printers” (Durzhavna Petchatnitsa, 1906) . [Translated from Bulgarian]

Today, press freedom is protected under Article 40 of the 1991 Constitution: “The press and the other mass information media shall be free and shall not be subjected to censorship” (Constitute Project, “Bulgaria's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2007” ).

Burkina Faso 🖉 edit

Article 8 of Burkina Faso’s 1991 Constitution protects freedom of the press: “The freedoms of opinion, of the press and the right to information are guaranteed” (Constitute Project, “Burkina Faso's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2012” ).

Burundi 🖉 edit

According to Article 17 of the 1962 Constitution, "The press shall be free except for the restrictions instituted by law. Laws shall punish severely any attempt against the security of the State."

Article 28 of Burundi’s 1981 Constitution protected press freedom: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with the public and the law. Freedom of press is recognized and guaranteed by the State” (Constitution of Burundi).

Title XII, Article 284 of Burundi’s 2005 Constitution protects freedom of the press through the National Council of Communication: “The National Council of Communication has, to the effect, a power of decision notably in the matter of the respect for and the promotion of the freedom of the press and the equitable access of the diverse political, social, economic and cultural opinions to the public media” (Constitute Project, “Burundi's Constitution of 2005” ). While this clause does not appear in today’s 2018 Constitution, the National Communication Council is still referenced and maintains similar responsibilities (Constitute Project, “Burundi’s Constitution of 2018) .

English translation of the Constitution of 1962, "Title II: Barundi and their Rights," Constitution of the Kingdom of Burundi : 20-21: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbi0002&id=3&men_tab=srchresults

Cambodia 🖉 edit

Cambodia originally protected freedom of the press under Section 2, Article 9 of its 1947 Constitution: “Every Cambodian is free to speak, write, print and publish. He may, either by way of the press or any other means express, spread, defend every opinion so long as he makes no unauthorized use of that right or does not tend to disturb the public order.”

Today, Chapter III, Article 41 of the 1993 Cambodian Constitution protects press freedom: “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression of their ideas, freedom of information, freedom of publication and freedom of assembly (Constitute Project, “Cambodia 1993 (rev. 2008) ”).



Cameroon 🖉 edit

The 1961 Cameroon Constitution offered a general guarantee of those rights in the UDHR (of which one is freedom of the press): "The Federal Republic of Cameroon is democratic, secular and social. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law. It affirms its adherence to the fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations." However, the 1961 Constitution did not discuss the right to freedom of the press specifically. Freedom of the press is specifically guaranteed in the 1972 Cameroon Constitution: "the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association, and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by law"



Canada 🖉 edit

Freedom of the press is protected under section 2(b) of Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedoms as part of the Constitution Act of 1982: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: • (a) freedom of conscience and religion; • (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; • (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and • (d) freedom of association.”

(Justice Laws Website, “Constitution Act 1982” ).

Cape Verde 🖉 edit

Cape Verde protects press freedom under Article 45 of its 1980 Constitution: “Everyone shall have the freedom to inform and to be informed, obtaining, receiving, and giving out information and ideas in any form without limitation, discrimination, or impediment” (Constitute Project, “Cape Verde's Constitution of 1980 with Amendments through 1992” ).

Central African Republic 🖉 edit

Article 13 of the 1994 Constitution stated "Freedom of the press is recognised and guaranteed. It is exercised within the conditions fixed by law. The exercise of this liberty and equal access for all to the medias of the state are assured by an independent organ, the status of which is fixed by law."

Article 15 of the current 2016 Constitution states that “the freedom of the press is recognized and guaranteed. It is exercised within the conditions established by the law” (Constitute Project, “Central African Republic's Constitution of 2016” ).



Chad 🖉 edit

Chad’s 1959 first protected freedom of the press under Article 5: “the press is free, whatever its mode of expression. The conditions for exercising freedom of the press are determined by law” (Journal Officiel de la Communauté). [Translated from French]

Today, press freedom is protected under Title II, Article 28 of the 2018 Constitution: “The freedoms of opinion and of expression, of communication, of conscience, of religion, of the press, of association, of assembly, of movement, and of demonstration are guaranteed to all” (Constitute Project, Chad's Constitution of 2018) .

Chile 🖉 edit

Chile originally protected freedom of the press under Article XXIII of its 1812 Provisional Constitutional Regulations: “The press will enjoy legal freedom; and so that it does not degenerate into a license harmful to religion, customs and honor of citizens and country; rules will be prescribed by the Government and Senate” (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile). [Translated from Spanish].

Today, Chapter III, Article 19 of Chile’s 1980 Constitution protects press freedom: “Freedom to express opinion and to inform, without prior censorship, in any form and by any medium, without prejudice to responsibility for any crimes or abuses committed in the exercise of these freedoms, in conformity with the law, which must be of qualified quorum. In no case can the law establish [a] state monopoly over the media of social communication” (Constitute Project, “Chile's Constitution of 1980 with Amendments through 2012” ).

Chile is currently drafting a new constitution.

China 🖉 edit

One of the earliest references to press freedom came about in 1904, when “the newspaper Dongfang Zazhi (The Eastern Miscellany) published a leading article arguing that in a country where people were allowed to express their opinions freely, its citizens were wiser than those who lived in a country where press freedom was not guaranteed.” This article echoed the sentiment of many leading Chinese intellectuals at the time (Guo 89-90, 2020) .

Legally, Chapter III, Article 87 of China’s 1954 Constitution first protected freedom of the press. Today, similar language is located in Chapter II, Article 35 of China’s Constitution: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” (The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, “Constitution”).

Colombia 🖉 edit

The first legal reference to press freedom in Colombia arose in Article 16 of Cundinamarca’s Departmental Constitution in 1811: “The Government guarantees to all its citizens the sacred rights of Religion, individual property and freedom, and that of the press, the authors being solely responsible for their productions…” (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes). [Translated from Spanish]

Today, Title II, Article 20 of Colombia’s 1991 Constitution protects press freedom: “Every individual is guaranteed the freedom to express and diffuse his/her thoughts and opinions, to transmit and receive information that is true and impartial, and to establish mass communications media (Constitute Project, “Colombia's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2005” ).

Comoros 🖉 edit

Press freedom protections first appeared in the Preamble of Comoros’s 1996 Constitution: “Inspired by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights , it proclaims and guarantees…freedom of thought and opinion, of the press and of publishing, of creation and of literary, artistic and scientific production” (Digithèque MJP, “Constitutional law of October 20, 1996” ).

Today, Chapter II, Article 18 of the 2009 Comoros Constitution protects press freedom: “Freedom of information, communication, and the press are guaranteed within the conditions established by law” (Constitute Project, “Comoros's Constitution of 2018” ).

Costa Rica 🖉 edit

Costa Rica originally operated under the Spanish Constitution of 1812, which protected freedom of the press under Article 131: The powers and duties of the Courts are…to protect the political liberty of the press” (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, “The Political Constitution of the Spanish Monarchy: Promulgated in Cádiz, the nineteenth day of March”).

Today, Title IV, Article 29 of the 1949 Costa Rican Constitution protects freedom of the press: “Every one may communicate their thoughts by words or in writing and publish them without prior censorship; but they will be responsible for the abuses committed in the exercise of this right, in the cases and the mode that the law establishes” (Constitute Project, “Costa Rica's Constitution of 1949 with Amendments through 2011” ).

Croatia 🖉 edit

As a former part of Yugoslavia, freedom of the press was protected in Croatia under Article 36 of the Yugoslavian Constitution: “Freedom of the press and other forms of public information shall be guaranteed. Citizens shall have the right to express and publish their opinions in the mass media” (National Legislative Bodies, “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”).

Today, Croatia protects freedom of the press under Article 38 of its 1991 Constitution: “Freedom of expression shall specifically include freedom of the press and other media of communication, freedom of speech and public expression, and free establishment of all institutions of public communication” (Constitute Project, “Croatia's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2010” ).

Cuba 🖉 edit

Cuba’s 1901 Constitution, its first as an independent nation, protected press freedom under Article 25: “Every person may freely, without censorship, express his thought either by word of mouth or in writing, through the press, or in any other manner whatsoever, subject to the responsibilities specified by law, whenever thereby attacks are made upon the honor of individuals, upon social order, and upon public peace” (George A. Smathers Libraries, “Translation of the proposed constitution for Cuba”).

Today, Article 55 of the 2019 Cuban Constitution protects press freedom: “People's freedom of press is recognized. This right is exercised according to the law and for the good of society. The fundamental means of social communication, in any of their forms, are the socialist property of all people or of political, social, and mass organizations, and may not be categorized as any other type of property. The State establishes the principles of organization and operation for all means of social communication” (Constitute Project, “Cuba's Constitution of 2019” ).

Cyprus 🖉 edit

Article 19 of Cyprus’s 1960 Constitution protects press freedom: “Every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression in any form. This right includes freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart information and ideas without interference by any public authority and regardless of frontiers” (Constitute Project, “Cyprus's Constitution of 1960 with Amendments through 2013” ).

Czech Republic 🖉 edit

As a part of Czechoslovakia, freedom of the press was protected by Article 113 of the 1920 Czechoslovakian Constitution: “Freedom of the Press as well as the right to assemble peaceably and without arms and to form associations is guaranteed” (Masarykova Univerzita, “The Constitutional charter of the Czechoslovak Republic”).

Today, Article 17 of the 1992 Czech Constitution protects freedom of the press: “Everyone has the right to express his views in speech, in writing, in the press, in pictures, or in any other form, as well as freely to seek, receive, and disseminate ideas and information irrespective of the frontiers of the state” (Constitute Project, “Czech Republic's Constitution of 1993 with Amendments through 2002” ).

Democratic Republic of the Congo 🖉 edit

Article 26 of the DRC’s 1964 Constitution first established protections for press freedom: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed to all Congolese” (Digithèque MJP, “Constitution of August 1, 1964” ).

Today, Title II, Article 24 of the DRC’s 2005 Constitution protects freedom of the press: “The freedom of the press, the freedom of information and of broadcasting by radio and television, the written press or any other means of communication are guaranteed, under reserve of respect for the law, for public order, for morals and for the rights of others” (Constitute Project, “Congo (Democratic Republic of the)'s Constitution of 2005 with Amendments through 2011” ).

Denmark 🖉 edit

Section 77 of Denmark’s 1849 Constitutional Act states that “Any person shall be at liberty to publish his ideas in print, in writing, and in speech, subject to his being held responsible in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced” (Folketinget, “My Constitutional Act”). This clause is still located in Section 77 of the 1959 iteration of the Danish Constitution, which Denmark currently adopts (Constitute Project, “Denmark's Constitution of 1953” ).

Djibouti 🖉 edit

Djibouti does not formally recognize freedom of the press, but protects the right to “to disseminate freely their opinions by word, pen, and image” under Article 15 of its 1992 Constitution (Constitute Project, “Djibouti's Constitution of 1992 with Amendments through 2010” ).

Dominica 🖉 edit

Dominica protects the “freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interferences” and protects the “technical administration or the technical operation of telephony, telegraphy, posts, wireless broadcasting or television” under Article 10 of its 1978 Constitution (Constitute Project, “Dominica's Constitution of 1978 with Amendments through 2014” ).

Dominican Republic 🖉 edit

Article 23 of the Dominican Republic’s 1844 Constitution first protected press freedom: “All Dominicans can freely print and publish their ideas, without prior censorship, subject to the law. The classification of printing crimes corresponds exclusively to the juries” (Mi Pais, “Primera Constitución Dominicana). [Translated from Spanish]

Today, article 49 of the Dominican Republic’s Constitution protects press freedom: “All persons have the right to freely express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions by any medium, without having allowed for prior censorship… All information media have free access to the official and private sources of information of public interest, in accordance with the law. The professional secret and the conscience clause of the journalist are protected by the Constitution and the law” (Constitute Project, “Dominican Republic's Constitution of 2015” ).

East Timor 🖉 edit

Article 41 of Timor-Leste’s 2002 Constitution protects press freedom: “Freedom of the press and other means of social communication is guaranteed…” (Constitute Project, “Timor-Leste's Constitution of 2002” ).

Ecuador 🖉 edit

Article 63 of Ecuador’s 1830 Constitution guaranteed that “Every citizen can freely express and publish their thoughts through the press, respecting public decency and morals, and always subjecting themselves to the responsibility of the law” (Wikisource, “Constitution of Ecuador of 1830: Title VIII”).

Today, Article 16 of the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution protects press freedom: “ “All persons, individually or collectively, have the right to: 1. Free, intercultural, inclusive, diverse and participatory communication in all spheres of social interaction, by any means or form, in their own language and with their own symbols. 2. Universal access to information and communication technologies. 3. The creation of media and access, under equal conditions, to use of radio spectrum frequencies for the management of public, private and community radio and television stations and to free bands for the use of wireless networks 4. Access and use of all forms of visual, auditory, sensory and other communication that make it possible to include persons with disabilities. 5. Become part of participation spaces as provided for by the Constitution in the field of communication.” (Constitute Project, “Ecuador's Constitution of 2008” )

Egypt 🖉 edit

Article 15 of Egypt’s 1923 Constitution initially protected freedom of the press: “The press shall be free within the limits of the law. Censorship of newspapers shall be prohibited. Warning, suspension or cancellation of papers via administrative means shall also be prohibited unless necessary for protecting social order” (Constitutionnet, “Royal Decree No. 42 of 1923” ).

Today, Article 70 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution protects press freedom: “Freedom of press and printing, along with paper, visual, audio and digital distribution is guaranteed. Egyptians -- whether natural or legal persons, public or private -- have the right to own and issue newspapers and establish visual, audio and digital media outlets” (Constitute Project, “Egypt's Constitution of 2014” ). ... further results

Is the identification of this right associated with a particular era in history, political regime, or political leader? 🖉 edit

Sociologically, the emergence of the freedom of the press as a concept in law dovetails roughly with the Enlightenment. There is an argument to be made that the foundation for the rights articulated during 18th century was established nearly one hundred years prior with natural law philosophers such as John Locke, and while that’s somewhat true, the vernacularization and expansion of rights dialogue during the Enlightenment cannot be neglected as having been foundational to the identification of the right to a free press. (Edelstein. “Enlightenment Rights Talk.”) As liberalism began to take shape in Europe and principles of innate human dignity and natural rights began to enter everyday western European discourse, so too did the principle of a free press come into law. The earliest documented law governing the free press was enacted in Sweden in 1766 with the Swedish Freedom of Print Act. This law, at least in essence enshrined the freedom of the press on all topics with four specific exceptions. These exceptions were: “challenges to the Evangelical faith; attacks on the constitution, the royal family or foreign powers; defamatory remarks about civil servants or fellow citizens; and indecent or obscene literature.” (Nordin, “Swedish Freedom to Print Act”) All other topics were more or less protected under this provision of the law. By modern standards this seems to be an incredibly tepid, and seemingly limited conception of freedom of the press —especially given that the Swedish free press law largely protected powerful institutions like the church and monarchy — but nevertheless it was a radically progressive take on the freedom of the press for its time. It was not until decades later that the American conception of the right to a free press would come to exist in various states before being ratified as a part of the United States’ Constitutional Bill of Rights in 1791. However, during the French Revolution and the intellectual culture that accompanied it, the articulation of the right to a free press was made in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. In the document, drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette with feedback from Thomas Jefferson, the right is articulated as follows, “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.” ("Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen") The interaction between Jefferson and the Marquis is not insignificant as it likely shaped the development of the conception of the right to a free press as it came to exist in the American context as well. During the preceding century (the seventeenth century) when the printing press first made its way to urban centers such as Boston and Philadelphia in the American colonies, there were several notable cases of journalists being tried for sedition and libel by English colonial magistrates. After the American revolution, states began to adopt their own constitutions, and supplement the federal constitution, which at the time lacked a bill of rights. One early articulation of the protection of the freedom of the press in the American context was in Pennsylvania’s state constitution. “The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 provided that ‘every citizen may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that Liberty. In prosecutions for the publications of papers…the truth may be given in evidence.’ Delaware and Kentucky followed suit with their constitutions in 1792.” This was the early makings of the truth as a defense in cases of libel. (Kahane, 1976) The articulation of the right to a free press in the Pennsylvania state constitution is strikingly similar to that in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the citizen. These commonalities, if they are more than mere coincidences, point to the overarching influence of the Enlightenment on the formulation of the right to a free press, as well as the connections between the intellectual circles in France and the United States that shaped the recognition of the right to a free press.


The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp

Edelstein, Dan. “Enlightenment Rights Talk.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 86, no. 3, 2014, pp. 530–565. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676691. Accessed 15 July 2021

Kahane, Dennis S. “Colonial Origins of Our Free Press.” American Bar Association Journal, vol. 62, no. 2, 1976, pp. 202–206. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25727515. Accessed 9 July 2021.)

Nordin, “The Swedish Freedom of Print Act of 1776 – Background and Significance” https://www.swlaw.edu/sites/default/files/2018-04/Nordin%20Pages%20from%207.2%20FULL%20v7%20%284_13_18%29_.pdf)

Is there another noteworthy written source from the past that mentions this right? + create

What specific events or ideas contributed to its identification as a fundamental right? 🖉 edit

In 1789, notably before the Bill of Rights was adopted, Massachusetts Chief Justice William Cushing wrote, “The propagating literature and knowledge by printing or otherwise tends to illuminate men's minds and to establish them in principles of freedom. But it cannot be denied also, that a free scanning of the conduct of the administration and shewing the tendency of it, and where truth will warrant, making it manifest that it is subversive of all law, liberty, and the Constitution; it can't be denied.” Cushing seemed to be concerned with sedition and libel, which had been the subject of prosecutions, such as the Zenger case in 1735, throughout the pre-revolutionary American colonies. A decade later, the Federalist Party in the 5th Congress with John Adams as president, passed the Alien and Sedition acts which clamped down on free speech and press before later being rolled back under Thomas Jefferson’s administration. (Charles & O'Neill 2012)

The role of adversarial press in both the American and French revolutions should not be neglected as foundational events that contributed to the identification of the right to a free press; pamphleteering, self-publishing, and revolutionary periodicals were important uses of media that furthered public discord, and were largely viewed as instrumental to the success of the revolutions—something Chief Justice Cushing later referred to in his 1789 letter to John Adams. The institution of an adversarial press was thought to provoke a responsive government, and ultimately be a way of avoiding violent revolution by creating public pressure.

Following the French Revolution, the full-scale liberation of the press was established—upending much of the established models of publishing and paving the way for later reforms that ultimately shaped modern copyright and piracy protections. This, depending on how broad a conception of free press we consider, may have been a certain sort of backsliding. (Wresch 2003)

A few years removed from Cushing’s letter to John Adams, the United States Constitution was amended with the Bill of Rights, which protected the freedom of expression and press as a foundational aspect of human liberty. (That is to say, for example, the American third amendment right to be free from quartering soldiers was created in response to the living memory of the abuse under colonial rule.) In the case of the freedom of the press, the abuses to publication in both France and the United Stated in their pre-revolutionary periods set the stage for the protection of the freedom of the press in these given case studies.

In 1804 Jefferson said “While we deny that Congress have a right to control the freedom of the press, we have ever asserted the right of the states, and their exclusive right, to do so. They have accordingly, all of them, made provisions for punishing slander, which those who have time and inclination resort to for the vindication of their characters." (Scherr 2016)

In the American context, the protections for the freedom of the press gradually expanded to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, with the landmark Supreme Court case Near v. Minnesota in 1931. Prior restraint was deemed unconstitutional even on the state level, and the protections for a free press were expanded accordingly.

Internationally, the recognition of the freedom of the press, and human rights more generally, came much more recently in history. Following the Second World War, the United Nations convened in 1948 to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). As the human rights theorist Henry Shue suggests in his book Basic Rights, human rights are often created in response to reliable and predictable threats of abuse, most often those that are in living memory. In response to the violations of human rights that took place during World War II, the assertion of certain universal human rights were take up so as to set a standard for the international community, and be regarded as the net beneath which no one should be allowed to fall.

Article 19 in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The flexibility of the wording of this right in the UDHR serves as a method for ensuring that there need not be constant revisions as technology and culture advance around the world, and also to avoid creating an implicitly hierarchical list or pyramid of forms of expression that must be protected above all else.

The sedimentation of the right into International human rights law has continued long after being drafted into the UDHR. “Since its inclusion in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been protected in all of the relevant international human rights treaties. In international law, freedom to express opinions and ideas is considered essential at both an individual level, insofar as it contributes to the full development of a person, and being a foundation stone of democratic society.” (Howie 2018)


Patrick J. Charles & Kevin Francis O'Neill, Saving the Press Clause from Ruin: The Customary Origins of a Free Press as Interface to the Present and Future, 2012 UTAH L. REV. 1691 (2012)

Emily Howie (2018) Protecting the human right to freedom of expression in international law, International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20:1, 12-15, DOI: 10.1080/17549507.2018.1392612

Near v. Minnesota 283 U.S. 697 (https://www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/283us697)

Scherr, A. (2016). Thomas Jefferson, the “Libertarian” Jeffersonians of 1799, and Leonard W. Levy’s Freedom of the Press. Journalism History, 42(2), 58-69.)

Shue, Henry. Basic Rights : Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy. 40th anniversary edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

Wresch, William. "Perspectives on the Right to Publish: Global Inequalities, Digital Publications, and the Legacy of Revolutionary France." Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 5, no. 2, 2003, pp. 117-127.

When was it generally accepted as a fundamental, legally-protectable right? 🖉 edit

The first piece of legislation granting citizens freedom of the press was the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act of 1776. The law allowed for free printing of anything that did not oppose religious faith, did not attack the constitution, and was not otherwise indecent (Nordin 2017, 137). In 1950, the European Convention of Human Rights accepted these same limitations for free press. The Swedish Freedom of the Press Act also gave citizens access to view official state documents. While other European countries had some level of free press, such as the Netherlands, the right to free press was not written into law (Nordin 2017, 138). The right to freedom of the press was accepted more globally with the publication of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (United Nations 1948) . Still, according to Freedom House, the population of the world with freedom of the press as of 2017 was only thirteen percent, due to limitations imposed by authoritarian regimes and Russian and Chinese regimes seeking to expand their global influence. There were even reports of threats to journalists and limitations to freedom of the press in some democracies (Dunham 2017) .

As for the United States, the first guarantee of freedom of the press was written by George Mason in the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 (Bogen 1983, 429). Thomas Jefferson revised Mason’s statement that “all men are born equally free and independent” when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (Vile). Likewise, James Madison later used the Virginia Declaration of Rights to help him in drafting the First Amendment in 1791. Specifically, the line “The Freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained by despotic Governments,” within the Virginia Declaration of Rights shows great similarity to Madison's later proposal for the guarantee of freedom of the press within the Bill of Rights (Bogen 1983, 445). Freedom of the press was accepted as a fundamental right for the United States as a whole with the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791 which states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Const. amend. I). Freedom of the press is intertwined with freedom of speech, and both rights are seen as fundamental (Stewart).