North Texas Daily

Freedom of speech still has your back

Freedom of speech still has your back

January 23
23:51 2013

Once upon a time, a trial was held that changed the face of news in America. Its landmark verdict is the foundation of free speech as we understand it in this country, and without it, the page you’re reading might not even exist.

We’re talking about the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735, and if you’ve taken notes in your history classes, the name might ring a bell. Zenger was a printer from New York City, who in 1733 created a newspaper criticizing the greed and corruption of his state’s colonial governor William Cosby—no relation to Bill.

The governor, infuriated by Zenger’s articles, had him arrested and charged with libel—in other words, making a statement that hurts someone’s character and claiming it’s a fact. After spending more than eight months in prison, Zenger entered court with the defense of lawyer Andrew Hamilton.

Hamilton’s argument in defense of Zenger was something courts hadn’t seen before: he claimed that so-called libelous speech had to be false to truly  damage a person’s character unfairly, and that since Zenger was simply telling the unpleasant truth about New York’s governor, he had committed no crime. And just like that, the jury agreed, and declared Zenger innocent of all charges.

Although the verdict was reached long before our country gained its independence, the Zenger trial changed the way news was written in America. Along with the First Amendment, the ruling ensured that government could not interfere with the creation or distribution of information and opinion, a protection we generally know as freedom of the press. Without it, we couldn’t criticize anyone or anything on this page without risking a lawsuit, or even the threat of arrest and criminal charges.

Why are we telling you this? It’s simple, really—these same rights apply to you. Our readers know that we’re free to say what we want on this page, but they seem to forget that they have the same power.

In the days before Facebook comments, the best way to speak your mind to thousands was by sending a letter to the editor of your local paper. We’d like to challenge the students, faculty and staff at UNT to express themselves by giving this a shot. Only you are capable of silencing yourself, and the space on this page ensures you’ll never have to.

If you want to respond to one of our articles, voice your views on the latest news, or just share your thoughts with the people on this campus, all you have to do is send it our way—and we can show it to more than 5,000 readers.

We got a deal?

– The Edboard

If you’ve got an editorial, letter to the editor or another comment about something you’d like to see in the Daily, send it to ntviewseditor@gmail.com.

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