The press refers to the agencies and people involved in collecting and conveying the news. This includes printed news outlets, such as newspapers and periodicals; broadcast news, such as radio and television news; and news spread over the Internet through websites. Freedom of the press is a concept that has to do with the relationship of the press to government.
The issue of freedom of the press arose for the first time in England in the 16th century, and then only because the press was being required to submit materials for licensing prior to publication. As the requirements grew more restrictive in the 17th century, protesters included poet John Milton, who suggested that suppression of publications found to be problematic was better than censoring them prior to publication. Nevertheless, licensing and censorship laws stayed on the books until 1695, and even when they were abolished, libel laws could be used to punish anyone who printed material that criticized the government, and truth was not an acceptable defense until the mid-19th century.
On 25 May 2009, members of the press from 19 European countries adopted the “European Charter on Freedom of the Press” at a ceremony in Hamburg and 48 journalists and editors-in-chief signed it. The ten articles are aimed at recognizing the role of freedom of the press in a democratic society and protecting the press from censorship, restrictions, threats, surveillance, and attack. The document continues to be available online for journalists to sign, if they wish.
In the United States, freedom of the press is asserted to begin with John Peter Zenger’s defense against charges of libel in 1735. Freedom of the press was specifically provided by several states following the American Revolution, and secured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed in 1791, where it is grouped along with freedom of speech. The attitude towards seditious libel implicit in the First Amendment has been debated, but with the passage of the Sedition Act in 1798, the First Amendment came to be understood as not intent on protecting seditious libel, but recognizing it as a crime.
In the early 21st century in the United States, the freedom of the press as protected by the First Amendment differentiates between the publication and the gathering of news: journalists are not always granted unlimited access to combat areas. Some states have passed shield laws allowing journalists to refuse to divulge both information and sources to law enforcement, but the Supreme Court has not recognized that the press has an unrestricted right to confidentiality.