When I hear the word surveillance, I’m quick to criticize and assume it indicates Big Brother is watching like in George Orwell’s 1984. However, the surveillance function of the press empowers citizens with information to ensure a fair democratic society. The function is essential for democracy because it helps the media share news that most citizens do not have access to and can benefit from. It is a right that allows journalists to tell us what is happening in our country.
For example, the surveillance function has allowed reporters to investigate Russia’s election meddling, the Watergate scandal and Clinton e-mail controversy. The surveillance function allows the press to inform the public not only on matters of politics, but also of safety. The media was able to give citizens living along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean time to prepare for the recent hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered two months beforehand that there would be 14 to 19 hurricanes, and the media helped distribute the message (Coghlan, 2017).
One of the greatest threats to the surveillance function of the press is skepticism. In a time of fake news and alternative facts, people do not look to the media as a reliable source. According to a Gallup poll, only about 30 percent of Americans trust any source to bring objective and accurate news (2016). Journalists can no longer claim to be the watchdogs they once were; now many insert their opinions and spin the truth. President Trump generalizes the media by indicating they are all evil truth-twisters. In fact, Trump has repeatedly called journalists “an enemy of the American people” (Mullin, 2017).
This skepticism makes another threat to the surveillance function. Many journalists are under a microscope of stricter scrutiny, growing more and more susceptible to litigation. Melania Trump recently won a lawsuit against a journalist’s false accusations (Gonzalez, 2017). Some thought the $2 million compensatory and punitive damages were excessive and should have been protected under neutral reportage, which protects journalists for publishing accurate defamatory information by a responsible party.
The surveillance function allows the media to be the eyes and ears of society. The First Amendment protects the rights of a free press, but the limitations and challenges are growing every day.
Mullin, B. (2017, February 22). Journalists react to being called ‘the enemy of the American people’. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.poynter.org/news/journalists-react-being-called-enemy-american-people
Coghlan, A. (2017, September 20). Hurricane Maria confirms dire warnings for 2017 hurricane season. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2148116-hurricane-maria-confirms-dire-warnings-for-2017-hurricane-season/
Gallup, I. (2016, September 14). Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx
Gonzalez, G. (2017, May 1). Media Risks Rise As Public Trust Fades. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20170501/NEWS06/912313178/News-provider-risks-rise-as-public-trust-fades-critics-increase-scrutiny-Trump