The increasingly global scale of the mass media has created a new concern for American national security. Networks such as Middle East-based Al-Jazeera have sprung up with the intention of providing the Arab world with an important counterweight to U.S.-dominated news agencies. Not only do such enterprises have the resources to compete internationally, their perspectives are often diametrically opposed to stated U.S. policies and agendas. Al-Jazeera, for example, has been accused of being sympathetic to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and is regularly his network of choice for broadcasting new messages and calls to action around the world (Bailey, 2004).
The rise of the Internet as a democratic means of mass communication also has implications for national security. One concern is the free availability of information on the Internet that can be of use to terrorists. Various Web sites contain instructions for making homemade explosive devices and even the basic principles of nuclear weapons. Another concern is the ease with which a whistle-blower or disgruntled government employee could publish sensitive information over the Internet. Fears such as these have led to debates in Congress over ways to censor or control the flow of information over the Internet. However, the nature of the technology and the fact that no one entity controls the Internet makes censorship a difficult proposition (Fallows, 1996).
Discussion on Media Censorship and Regulation
Although the states imposed restrictions on freedom of speech and the press under certain conditions, the Republican viewpoint prevailed. During the Civil War, efforts were made on both sides to restrain opposition publications, but overall the interests of national security and rights of the free press coexisted without major conflict in the fledgling nation during the 19th century.
By the time of World War I, however, the government again sought to curb press freedom regarding issues of national security. In an effort to repress dissent and anti-war activity, Congress passed the Espionage Act in 1917. The act made it a felony to try to cause insubordination in the military or to convey false statements with the intent to interfere with the operation of the armed services (Grossberg, 1998). The Sedition Act of 1918 banned treasonable or seditious material from the mail. Under this provision, the mailing of many publications, including The New York Times as well as radical newspapers, was temporarily halted. The Sedition Act made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal …or abusive language” about the government. Clearly, the Sedition Act turned the tide against the free press in the interest of national security.
In 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a free speech case for the first time in its history. The Socialist Party had mailed 15,000 leaflets opposing wartime conscription and the secretary of that organization was convicted of obstructing the operation of the armed services. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote the unanimous opinion upholding the conviction, agreed that there were times when speech could be limited (Fallows, ...