In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Freedom of the Press

  • Introduction
  • Books of Search
  • Textbooks
  • Journals

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Communication Freedom of the Press
Dwight Teeter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0076


Freedom of the press refers to the freedom to criticize government without suffering official interference or punishment, before or after publication. “Freedom of the press,” “freedom of speech,” and “freedom of expression” are terms often used together in the United States, with “the press” primarily connoting print and electronic media. This bibliography concentrates on freedom of the press as defined by some major American and English writers and in decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. Because of the advent of electronic media and of the internet and of other “new media” or “social media” during the 20th and early 21st centuries, the term “freedom of the press” is used to cover mediated communication in general. The clearest indicator of press freedom is that opponents of government or of government leaders, laws, or policies can publish effective criticisms without suffering government retaliation in the form of fines, imprisonment, or even death. That definition does not include communications that may break laws of general applicability, such as the law of fraud, nor violation of a contract. It also does not cover extralegal controls such a communicator’s sense of the community’s range of permissible expression, or public pressures (including mob action) against the press in times of crisis. The legal definition of “freedom of the press” in the United States begins with the forty-five words of the First Amendment to the Constitution, adopted 15 December 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof, 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 absolute words of prohibition against congressional statutes tampering with speech or press freedom were, however, overridden early in the nation’s history by Congress in 1798, just seven years after the adoption of the First Amendment. Congress then passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which, among other things, made it a crime to criticize the federal government or government leaders. These short-lived enactments, which fueled bitter partisan controversy in the new nation, are discussed in the Historical Context section. Freedom of the press is not static: it rises in times of peace and diminishes in times of war or national crisis, when most needed by society.

Books of Search

Books of search are used to find legal materials. The general citing protocol is that it is bad form to quote from a legal encyclopedia as an authority. Books of search guide researchers into a subject area. One place to start is in a textbook on legal research. For example, Barkan, et al. 2009a and Barkan, et al. 2009b are textbooks offering overviews of legal materials, paper and electronic, with information on how to use them. Legal encyclopedias available in law school libraries are updated by the periodic insertion of “pocket parts” placed in the back cover of each volume. Legal encyclopedias available in law school or government libraries provide valuable summaries of topic areas, with citations for scholars to use as they begin to explore a subject. The leading encyclopedias are American jurisprudence 2d and Corpus juris secundum.

  • Barkan, Steven M., Roy M. Mersky, and Donald J. Dunn. 2009a. Fundamentals of legal research. 9th ed. New York: Foundation.

    This book, long the standard reference on legal research, has been revised to cover methods ranging from traditional paper sources to use of the internet and other electronic resources such as WestLaw. It thoroughly covers the organization of state and federal court reports, statutes, and tax research, and also provides helpful approaches to administrative law and constitutional law. It contains an introduction to legal research in the United Kingdom.

  • Barkan, Steven M., Roy M. Mersky, and Donald J. Dunn. 2009b. Legal research illustrated. 9th ed. New York: Foundation.

    This is an abridgement of the more extensive volume listed in this section. It does not have the original volume’s extensive list of legal abbreviations, nor does it contain information on legal research in US territories.

  • Corpus juris secundum. 1936–.

    Conventionally abbreviated C.J.S. Terms itself “A contemporary statement of American law as derived from reported cases and legislation.” C.J.S. has more than four hundred broad topics.

  • West Group. 1962–. American jurisprudence 2d: A modern comparative text statement of American law, state and federal. St. Paul, MN: West Group.

    A legal encyclopedia, conventionally abbreviated Am.Jur.2d, which provides information on legal topics, including discussions of authorities and controlling cases. Published by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing of Rochester, NY, until the mid-1990s.

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