Quotations about   freedom of the press

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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) [Majority Opinion]
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Added on 24-Feb-17 | Last updated 24-Feb-17
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One major and fundamental guarantee of protracted freedom is the unfettered right of the man to write as he sees fit, as his conscience indicates, as his mood dictates, as his cause cries out for. The moment you begin to censor the writer — and history bears this out in the ugliest of fashions — so begins a process of decay in the body politic that ultimately leads to disaster. What begins with a blue pencil — for whatever reason — very often ends in a concentration camp.

It has forever been thus: So long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms — all of them — may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech (1975)
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Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 2-Feb-17
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A democracy is badly served when newspapers and television focus so intensely on the personal joys and tragedies of famous people. This kind of “news” crowds out more serious issues, and there is an important difference — as the Constitution’s framers well knew, and as many people today appear to have forgotten — between the public interest and what interests the public.

Cass R. Sunstein (b. 1954) American legal scholar
“Reinforce the Walls of Privacy,” New York Times (6 Sep 1997)
Added on 13-Dec-16 | Last updated 13-Dec-16
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I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Misattributed)
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The words are not found in any Voltaire and actually belong to historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing as S. G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), describing an 1759 incident where Voltaire learned that Claude-Adrien Helvétius' book On the Mind [De l’esprit] had been burned (along with Voltaire's own "On Natural Law") after condemnation by the Paris Parliament and the Sorbonne.
‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now.
Hall later wrote to a friend that the actual words were her own and ought not to have had quotation marks.

Variations:
  • I wholly disapprove of what you say -- and will defend to the death your right to say it.
  • Monsieur l’Abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerais ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire.
More information here.
Added on 12-Jul-16 | Last updated 12-Jul-16
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If the newspapers of a country are filled with good news, the jails will be filled with good people.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) American politician, diplomat, sociologist
“Moynihan’s Maxim”

Also referred to as "Moynihan's Law." Quoted in The Illustrated Weekly of India (16-22 Oct 1988).
Added on 21-Jun-16 | Last updated 21-Jun-16
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A decent and manly examination of the acts of the Government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) American politician, military officer, US President (1841)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1841)
Added on 21-Jun-16 | Last updated 21-Jun-16
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Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
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Paraphrase: "The people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge -- I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers."
Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

Milton - above all liberties - wist_info quote

John Milton (1608-1674) English poet
Areopagitica: a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644)
Added on 14-Jun-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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Thus, if the First Amendment means anything in the field, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community. In other words, literature should not be suppressed merely because it offends the moral code of the censor.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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I am inordinately proud these days of the quill, for it has shown itself, historically, to be the hypodermic which inoculates men and keeps the germ of freedom always in circulation, so that there are individuals in every time in every land who are the carriers, the Typhoid Mary’s, capable of infecting others by mere contact and example. These persons are feared by every tyrant — who shows his fear by burning the books and destroying the individuals.

E.B. White (1899-1985) American author, critic, humorist [Elwyn Brooks White]
“Freedom” (Jul 1940)
Added on 25-Feb-16 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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No man ought to be hindered saying or writing what he pleases on the conduct of those who undertake the management of national affairs, in which all are concerned, and therefore have the right to inquire, and to publish their suspicions concerning them. For if you punish the slanderer, you deter the fair inquirer.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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MILNE: Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Night and Day, Act 1 (1978)
Added on 24-Oct-14 | Last updated 24-Oct-14
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MILNE: No matter how imperfect things are, if you’ve got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
RUTH: I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Night and Day, Act 1 (1978)
Added on 17-Oct-14 | Last updated 17-Oct-14
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Every dictatorship has ultimately strangled in the web of repression it wove for its people, making mistakes that could not be corrected because criticism was prohibited.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Value of Dissent,” speech, Nashville, Tennessee (21 Mar 1968)
Added on 13-Oct-14 | Last updated 13-Oct-14
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A free press stands as one of the great interpreters between the government and the people. To allow it to be fettered is to fetter ourselves.

George Sutherland (1862-1942) Anglo-American jurist, Supreme Court Justice (1922-1938)
Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 250 (1936)
Added on 16-Sep-14 | Last updated 16-Sep-14
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How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Letter to Henry Alden (11 Nov 1906)
Added on 25-Oct-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.

Potter Stewart (1915-1985) US Supreme Court Justice (1959-81)
United States v. Ginzburg, 383 U.S. 463 (1965) [Dissenting]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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To limit the press is to insult the nation; to prohibit the reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.

Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-1771) French philosopher
A Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education [De l’homme] (1772)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. If [this] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Nicholas G. Dufief (19 Apr 1814)

Dufief was a Philadelphia bookseller who had been prosecuted for selling the book Sur la Création du Monde, un Systême d'Organisation Primitive by M. de Becourt. Jefferson had purchased a copy as well.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.

Anthony Kennedy (b. 1936) US Supreme Court Justice
International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (26 Jun 1992) [concurring[
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Jul-14
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What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
In Weekend Guardian (10 Feb 1990)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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