For Immediate Release
Paul Voakes, AEJMC President
February 8, 2017
Dear President Trump,
As the leaders of organizations representing more than 8,600 journalism and communication educators throughout the country, we hope you will join us in supporting the longstanding, democratic principles that inform our teaching and our research:
· We strongly support the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Its guarantee of freedom of speech has resulted in a nation whose public debates and tolerance for diverse viewpoints are unmatched in world history. We believe that freedom of expression, as many before us have asserted, “is the right from which all others flow.”
· We believe the First Amendment compels the news media to hold accountable those in power – especially those leading the U.S. government. Without this “watchdog” function, American citizens will not have the broad sweep of information they need for successful self-governance. This in turn requires transparency and accessibility on the part of those in government.
· We believe in the discipline of verification. As our colleagues Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have written, verification “is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art. . . . Journalism alone is focused on the process employed to get what happened down right.” We value the gathering of evidence-based information over the superficial parroting of opposing claims.
· We support the teaching of news literacy – not just to journalism students but to all students. As young citizens and future leaders, our students must be able to discern fabrication from fact, to evaluate the evidence and sources of claims, to recognize the inevitable biases in themselves and in others, and to understand the economics of news media and all public communications. We believe the American public deserves journalism that is factual and balanced, and we are preparing future professionals to provide it.
· We support debate and dialogue that is both robust and civil. While the First Amendment protects freedom of expression in its many forms, the norms of a civil society also necessitate that we treat others with decency and respect – even those with whom we disagree.
These are traditional and time-honored principles of journalism and communication education that we feel have been recently threatened by the rhetoric of your administration. In your campaign and during your transition to the presidency, you and your leadership team have made references to changes both logistical (relocation of the White House press corps, among many others) and conceptual (“opening up the libel laws” to make it easier to sue the media, among many others), which together signal a potential erosion of important First Amendment freedoms that are essential to our democracy. You have stated that you have a “running war” with the news media, and you have declared journalists to be “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” In the first days of your presidency your administration shut down systems of communication between the several key federal agencies and the public.
In fairness, we also recognize that the Obama administration had a less than stellar record of accessibility, transparency and accountability, in its own relations with news media. But we have now turned a page in U.S. history. We urge you and your administration to set an example — indeed, the benchmark — of transparency, accessibility and accountability, and to encourage and support journalism in its important watchdog role.
As educators, we have long used current events and trends for “teachable moments” and for research topics. We are using this moment to restate the value of journalism and encourage our students to pursue it as a noble profession that can enlighten and inform.
We urge you and your administration vigorously to protect and preserve the First Amendment rights of journalists and all citizens – rights that are basic to democracy and an informed society. We will also continue vigorously to defend these principles.
The Boards of Directors:
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
National Scholastic Press Association/Associated Collegiate Press
Journalism Education Association
Student Press Law Center