Washington Law Review


Freedom of the press, like other constitutional guarantees is not an absolute. Nor does it have the same meaning for all media. For more than a century after the constitution was framed and ratified, the press was coextensive with publishing. Over the course of the twentieth century, electronic media have emerged and extended the contours of the press. At the same time, however, liberty of the press has developed in idiosyncratic terms that have fostered a First Amendment hierarchy. While print media continue to be afforded maximum constitutional security, newer communications methodologies have been more susceptible to official management and control. Broadcasting, although the dominant mass medium, is the least protected segment of the press. The diminished First Amendment status of radio and television reflect dubious assumptions about their scarcity and impact that, especially given the advent of even newer media and sources of competition, are increasingly obsolete. As constitutional decisions concering emerging media represent a forced choice betweeen respective models for print and broadcasting, the risks to traditional concepts of editorial autonomy have compounded. Particularly as the diluted consitutional standards have become accepted for the nation's most pervasive medium, the danger is that oversight rather than freedom will become habitual and normative rather than exceptional. This Article suggests that constitutional and general policy interests would be better served by foregoing balkanization and dilution of First Amendment principles in favor of universal standards reflecting traditional assumptions that minimize official monitoring and mangagement of the press.

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