Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the country of Kazakhstan as part of a presidential delegation representing the United States at a global energy exposition. While there, I was interviewed by the state-owned news media about a number of issues, including America’s role in global energy development. Following the interview, the reporter assured me he would get his story approved by the proper government channels before airing the story.
That interview was a stark reminder that the freedom of the press as we know it in our nation does not exist around the world. This Central Asian country, located strategically between Russia and China, is impressive in many ways. But it does not have the freedom of the press we all too often take for granted in America.
It has been 225 years since freedom of the press was affirmed in the first of the 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution known as the Bill of Rights. By placing it at the very top — as the First Amendment — our nation’s founders recognized the freedom to publish newspapers and magazines without censorship as an essential civil liberty and a cornerstone of our democracy.
As I serve North Dakota in Congress, I am interviewed by reporters from news organizations around the nation and world. Yet, none are as meaningful to me as calls from North Dakota journalists. Former House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr., liked to say, “All politics is local.” Every day, state news reporters reflect this wise statement by bringing national issues to a local level and helping their readers remain engaged and informed. They also help me keep a grassroots perspective on issues Congress considers.
The openness and transparency journalists bring to every level of government they cover is another advantage of freedom of the press. And, it’s another privilege of democracy we also take for granted.
I enjoy hearing from North Dakota journalists, and I encourage them to give equal coverage to congressional policy issues and how they relate to North Dakota, along with the state political stories they cover so well.
With every right comes responsibility. Freedom of the press, while guaranteed, can be jeopardized when abused. It should matter to all of us that ethical and professional practices are upheld in all forms of news reporting. I have a concern that abuses by some national news organizations intent on pushing an agenda over balanced reporting jeopardize freedom of the press for all news organizations.
Freedom of the press is a civil liberty at the heart of our democracy, and we owe it to our founders to responsibly exercise our First Amendment rights. I look forward to North Dakota newspapers continuing as leaders in upholding this responsibility.