The Right to Write

Freedom of speech and of the press is the foundation of journalism. However, persons and companies have been potentially threatening these freedoms by requesting retractions for articles that are no longer relevant or newsworthy, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The media is an entity that works toward informing and educating the public, not necessarily toward defending public actions. Just as the government cannot, by law, regulate or censor a media entity, neither should the public. Media sources should not feel obligated to retract or delete articles for the sake of others’ reputations unless there is a legal issue or a need for factual corrections.

The Columbia Journalism Review reported that one woman who was reported on by the University of Southern California news website requested that a legitimate article about her be unpublished because she claimed that it was preventing her from getting a job. In cases like this, when someone is merely trying to save face, retractions should not be issued. It is not the job of the media to boost someone’s reputation. That being said, the First Amendment Center claims that, while media can technically report and claim anything they want, they are not immune to punishment — they can be sued for libel if a story is incorrect or if they breach someone’s privacy. If this is the case, then retractions should be issued and corrections made.

At the end of last year, Rolling Stone published an article about an alleged gang rape which sparked discussions nationwide regarding sexual assault awareness and prevention. After an investigation by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism found out the story was false, Rolling Stone retracted the article and has been receiving criticism for its apparent lack of fact-checking and journalistic integrity. Bustle News asserts that, while it’s good this gang rape did not actually occur, Rolling Stone’s mishap will lead people to further question the validity of sexual assault stories. Journalists aren’t perfect people, so fact-checking and corroboration of claims should be taken very seriously, since the press is a widespread medium for informing the public. In a perfect world, retractions should not have to be made. But when they are, journalists need to verify and stand by their retractions.

The Pacific Standard reported that the Associated Press was called out for a mistake in one of its articles, but instead of retracting the incorrect parts and issuing a correction, AP said, “[We] stand by the stories.” Although it’s admirable for AP to stand by what it’s published, in this case, a retraction should have been issued to address the incorrect information. Yes, journalists should stand by what they write, but they should also admit when they’ve made a mistake and make the necessary corrections. Though the media should be publishing truthful and accurate information, journalists do make mistakes. As long as they make the necessary corrections in light of inaccuracies, they shouldn’t make retractions simply to appease everyone.

In a country where the press and the government are constantly scrutinized and criticized, it is important for journalists to have confidence in what they report and in their role in serving the public. The Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan defends the freedom of the press and should be the standard for all media sources that are questioning whether or not to retract an article. The summary of the decision states that “the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials [or other entities] except when statements are made with actual malice [with the intent to defame or hurt someone’s reputation] (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity).” If it’s true and if it’s newsworthy, then there’s no reason not to report something. 

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