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The Difference Between Speech and Press: Where They Do and Don’t Overlap

by | Aug 30, 2018 | First Amendment, Media Law

Freedom of speech and freedom of press are covered by many of the same laws. And both concepts are covered under the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, 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.”

Together, they can be referred to as freedom of expression, and in many cases, spoken and published expression are given equal treatment by the Constitution. But does that mean they are essentially the same thing?

The Free Press – and Why It’s Important

The right to a free press means that communication through the media – print and electronic – can be exercised without overreaching government interference. This includes:

  • newspapers,
  • magazines,
  • books,
  • television,
  • radio,
  • film, and
  • websites.

The government does not have the right to tell the media what they can or cannot publish, though the government can impose some restrictions on broadcast media because the electromaganetic spectrum and is limited and regulated by the government.

This freedom is crucial to democracy. Historically, the media have served as a watchdog and as a surrogate for the public investigating government operations, identifying wrongdoing, and informing the public. It is necessary to promote transparent and accountable governance.

For the government to prevent the publication or broadcast of news, it must meet incredibly high standards, which have yet to be successfully met.

And many Court cases have held that the freedom of press does not empower the press to compel the government to provide information or grant them access to information the general public does not have. However, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart acknowledged that their role in keeping the public informed may not entitle the press to special deference but should be taken into account.

Freedom of Speech

The right to a free speech means that people can express ideas and information without fear of government censorship. Even if you have an unpopular opinion, the government cannot punish you for expressing it.

It is important to note, however, that you may still face consequences from private institutions due to your speech. For example, you may be banned from a social network or fired from your job.

Unlike Freedom of Press, there are specific limitations to freedom of speech. The government can impose restrictions and consequences for:

  • making or distributing obscene material, such as child pornography;
  • plagiarizing copyrighted material;
  • defamation (i.e., libel and slander);
  • making true threats;
  • inciting illegal actions;
  • or soliciting others to commit crimes.


Freedom of speech and freedom of press bear many similarities. In many cases, they may even be easily lumped together under freedom of expression. However, each plays a distinct and important role in protecting our democracy, and they may be subject to different interpretations by the courts.

Marks Gray, P.A. and I frequently represent and advise clients on Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press issues. Please contact me if you need assistance with these important First Amendment subjects: [email protected].


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