On This Day
1735 – Freedom of the press: New York Weekly Journal writer John Peter Zenger is acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, on the basis that what he had published was true.
Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought through constitution or other legal protection and security.
With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public. State materials are protected due to either of 2 reasons: the classification of information as sensitive, classified or secret, or the relevance of the information to protecting the national interest. Many governments are also subject to “sunshine laws” or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest and enable citizens to request access to government-held information.
The United Nations’ 1948 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 regardless of frontiers”.
This philosophy is usually accompanied by legislation ensuring various degrees of freedom of scientific research (known as scientific freedom), publishing, and press. The depth to which these laws are entrenched in a country’s legal system can go as far down as its constitution. The concept of freedom of speech is often covered by the same laws as freedom of the press, thereby giving equal treatment to spoken and published expression. Sweden was the first country in the world to adopt freedom of the press into its constitution with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766.
Born On This Day
1876 – Mary Ritter Beard, American historian and activist (d. 1958)
Mary Ritter Beard (August 5, 1876 – August 14, 1958) was an American historian, author, women’s suffrage activist, and women’s history archivist who was also a lifelong advocate of social justice. As a Progressive Era reformer, Beard was active in both the labor and women’s rights movements. She also authored several books on women’s role in history including On Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women’s Eyes (editor, 1933), and Woman as Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities (1946), her major work. In addition, she collaborated with her husband, historian Charles Austin Beard, as coauthor of seven textbooks, most notably The Rise of American Civilization (1927), two volumes, and America in Midpassage: A Study of the Idea of Civilization (1939) and The American Spirit (1942), the third and fourth volume of The Rise of American Civilization series. A standalone book, Basic History of the United States, was their best-selling work.
During the early decades of the twentieth century, Beard actively supported passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and was involved with several women’s suffrage organizations that included the Women’s Trade Union League, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later renamed the Women’s Political Union), the New York City Suffrage Party, and the Wage-Earners’ Suffrage League. She was also a member of the advisory board of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later called the National Woman’s Party. For a time, she edited suffrage publications, The Woman Voter and The Suffragist.
Beard’s interest in women’s history led to her work in establishing the World Center for Women’s Archives in 1935 in New York City. Although the center closed in 1940, largely due to internal issues and lack of funding, her efforts encouraged several colleges and universities to begin collecting similar records on women’s history. Beard was a consultant on the early development of women’s history archives at Radcliffe and Smith Colleges, which eventually led to establishment of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.
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