Young people play key role in improving public perception of the press, expert says

Hannah Daniel

While the public perception of the press has shifted from respectful to critical in recent years, the future of journalism remains bright, according to Tulane University law professor Amy Gajda, an expert in media law and press rights.

Gajda, author and award-winning journalist, spoke on “Freedom of the Press in the Trump Era” as part of the Plan II Honors Program’s Joynes Speaker Series on Thursday night.

Gajda mentioned recent court cases in which judges have sided against publications, such as deciding that online media outlets could be held liable for defamatory statements in comments sections, publishing mugshots and recording things said in public.

“The most important change over the course of the past few years that led to the turnaround in these sorts of cases is the internet and the sudden burst of publishers it’s brought with it, not all of whom are ethics interested,” Gajda said. “Today, in addition to more mainstream publishers, there are millions of websites, some of which publish hurtful and embarrassing information about even everyday people.”

In the past, it was more likely that reporters knew what they were doing, Gajda said, and stories were examined more critically before being printed.

Gajda said she remains optimistic about the future of the press. She said President Trump lacks the power to make libel laws tougher on journalists and that she has noticed young people’s growing interest in news and the return of ‘path-breaking,’ rather than reactive, reporting.

Young people must view themselves as publishers, Gajda said, and be cautious when posting online to avoid future lawsuits that could further curtail the freedom of the press.

Charlie Bonner, Plan II Students’ Association co-president, said freedom of the press is an important topic given the current political climate.

“Having someone in the executive office that seeks to diminish the role of the press or to claim things are false just because he disagrees with them puts us at a crossroads for … what value the press has in our society, “ said Bonner, a Plan II and government senior.

Aarti Bhat, Plan II, human development and family sciences senior — and one of about 100 attendees at the event — said she hopes the freedom of the press will be maintained in the future.

“It’s hard … with a lot of attacks on the media and the press, but seeing a lot of young people supporting the freedom of press is something I’m hopeful about,” Bhat said.