The First Amendment Doesn't Care If Wikileaks Is A Media Organization

from the either-way... dept

One of the big debates over Wikileaks in the last few months was whether or not Wikileaks really was a media organization. Of course, as some people are finally realizing: it doesn’t matter. The First Amendment should protect the organization no matter what kind of organization it is:

That’s one argument in an article that appeared Wednesday in the Harvard Law and Policy Review by Jonathan Peters, a lawyer and research fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism. The First Amendment, Peters argues, protects both free speech and freedom of the press, and neither of those protections is any more or less powerful in protecting an organization that publishes classified documents. The amendment, after all, reads “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, nor of the press,” and doesn’t make a distinction between the level of protection on either one of those two clauses.

“The First Amendment does not belong to the press,” Peters writes. “It protects the expressive rights of all speakers, sometimes on the basis of the Speech Clause and sometimes on the basis of the Press Clause. To argue that the First Amendment would protect Assange and WikiLeaks only if they are part of the press is to assume (1) that the Speech Clause would not protect them, and (2) that there is a major difference between the Speech and Press Clauses.”

This seems like an important reminder for those still arguing over how to classify Wikileaks.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: wikileaks

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The First Amendment Doesn't Care If Wikileaks Is A Media Organization”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

If the first amendment can protect big corporations from unlimited political ad contribution restrictions, why can’t it protect Wikileaks from exercising their freedom of the press?

Oh, I get it now, the first amendment only applies when it’s convenient to big corporations. Since the government usually represents industry interests, then protecting those who leak damaging information against our government isn’t protected.

Squirrel Brains (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This isn’t exactly true. There could be some arguments that the U.S. has some jurisdiction over some of the acts of Wikileaks. As long as the prominent members stay outside the US, they are probably ok. But if they were ever to step foot within the borders of the US, the courts would then have personal jurisdiction.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Apple and oranges. He is arguing people in the US (citizen or not), you are arguing about people outside the US.”

No, what I’m arguing is simply that the US Constitution states that OUR congress will make no law abridging the rights to free speech of ANYONE. It does apply to people in China as far as OUR CONGRESS is concerned. That doesn’t mean they have free speech, only free speech in the eyes of the United States. I still see nothing in the first amendment that claims it only applies to US citizens….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I wrote the original comment above.

Your point is ENTIRELY accurate. Part of the foundation of this country was and is that people have certain unalienable rights. Although that is the Declaration of Independence, its still a valid foundation point. One which the Constitution is at least nominally based upon.

So, insofar as this discussion is concerned, they are indeed subject to the Constitution in that the US may not infringe upon the rights of Wikileaks [and it’s employees] regardless of their citizenship, or lack thereof, and also regardless of their location in the world.

danfinger says:

Re: Re:

Okay, you’re right! WL isn’t an American organization. But guess what?

It doesn’t matter.

Any prosecution pursued will be by ? wait for it ? AMERICANS! Just because someone or some entity isn’t of American origin does NOT mean we can ignore our own laws! That’s why judges, DA’s, soldiers and a myriad of other sworn officers representing the US government swear to “uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America”. They have never said “uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America, unless they’re furners”

So sad that this very important lesson never got drilled into so many kids skulls in tenth grade civics class.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

The First Amendment doesn't apply to Wikileaks

It’s not that Wikileaks is not a US organization that makes the first Amendment not apply, it also doesn’t apply to US corporations, foreign citizens or even US citizens. Read the words of the amendment, “Congress shall make no law… ” The First Amendment, and the rest of the United States Constitution, applies only to the United States government.
whether or not a censorship law would apply doesn’t matter, Congress is forbidden from creating the law in the first place.

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

The discussion about whether Wikileaks should be considered “the press” is entirely ridiculous. The press, as referenced in the US Constitution, isn’t limited to 20th century media organizations. In fact, if we limit it to that definition we also have to conclude that there was no press when the Constitution was written. Since it’s specifically referenced in the 1st Amendment we can safely say that’s incorrect.

The same definition of the press which would exclude Wikileaks from 1st Amendment protection would likewise exclude Benjamin Franklin. His publications had more in common with blogs and issue advocacy websites than modern newspapers. That, in and of itself, tells me it’s a faulty definition. What freedom of the press is supposed to mean is freedom of publication. It refers not to a privileged group of people and organizations, but literally to a printing press, which was synonymous with publication when the US Constitution was written.

By extension, any prosecution of Julian Assange for assisting in leaking secret information while allowing newspapers, television broadcasters, and the like to publish classified information they’ve collected by interviewing government officials without similar action amounts to granting special legal status to The Press which was never intended by the Founding Fathers.

Whether the government has the right to take action over the publication of a particular state secret is something we should certainly discuss and debate. But any answer which relies on whether it was a media outlet or journalist who did the publishing has no legitimate constitutional basis. Likewise, if it was a crime for Wikileaks to assist in leaking US government secrets, it’s ridiculous to say mainstream media outlets shouldn’t be prosecuted for convincing government officials to leak other secrets.

Sadly, it’s primarily The Press themselves I blame for our modern misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment. More than anyone else, they are responsible for the myth that a handful of words in the middle of an amendment enumerating the rights of the people are actually meant only to apply to them, and not to the public at large. They are the first to declare that an individual who isn’t part of their fraternity isn’t afforded the same protection they enjoy under the 1st Amendment and the last to criticize journalist shield laws which apply only to them. The fact is, there are no rights of The Press enumerated in the Constitution. Only rights of the people which also extend to The Press.

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

“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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Press Mentioned in the First Amendment is not talking at all about media organizations. The Definition of Press at the time would be any written article. Its a Freedom of Spoken word and Written word.

Frost (profile) says:

Citizenship is also irrelevant

For many of the constitutional amendments and (especially) the bill of rights, citizenship is completely irrelevant – nowhere is it mentioned that it applies only to US citizens, rather the opposite – it explicitly states it applies to all persons everywhere. Even the brown ones in nations ending with “stan”…

Travis says:

Congress Shall Make No Law

The amendment, after all, reads “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, nor of the press,” and doesn’t make a distinction between the level of protection on either one of those two clauses.

Well then, I guess we will just have to put together an Executive Agreement to punish them. Maybe there is still time to sneak something into ACTA?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...