Press Control and Restraints


Sung Dynasty

690 AD - 1279

Sung emperors began to censor and suppress non-governmental newssheets before the demise of their dynasty in 1279

Press in England


Bestowing and denying printers privileges became a major form of government control of the press in England

The Spanish

1502 - 1516

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain required all printed works to be licensed, which means approved in advance by government or church authorities

Spanish Inquisition

1502 - 1834

Another form of press restriction in Spain was burning offensive books by the Inquisition

Edict of Worms


Edict of Worms in Germany includes requirement that printers submit to prior censorship

Printed works of England


All printed works in England must be licensed after this date

Punishments in France

1561 - 1789

In France, flogging becomes the first-time penalty for those who circulate defamatory or seditious broadsides or pamphlets. Repeat offenders are subject to the death penalty; press remains tightly controlled in France until French Revolution in 1789



John Milton publishes Areopagitica, a pamphlet defending press freedom during the English Civil War

Oliver Cromwell

1655 - 1658

Oliver Cromwell restores press controls in England

Licensing Act


Licensing Act restricts press lapses in England

America's First Newspaper


Governor and council of colony of Massachusetts close America’s first newspaper down after its first issue

Licensing Act Part 2


Licensing Act ends permanently after the “Glorious Revolution;” becomes more difficult for authorities to control content of newspapers

Stamp Tax


Stamp tax imposed on newspapers in England

First Case of Libel


Jury finds John Peter Zenger, the publisher of the New-York Weekly Journal, innocent of seditious libel (triumph for press freedom)

Rising Against


American press rises in protest against Stamp Act

Townshend Acts


British Parliament institutes series of taxes (Townshend Acts) on goods imported into America, including paper

Illegal Reading in France


More than 100 people imprisoned for circulating illegal pamphlets in France

Paris restrictions


Because of strict press controls, Paris has only four newspapers

Sedition Act


President John Adams signs Sedition Act, which makes it a crime to write, print, utter or publish attacks against U.S. government

The power of the judge


States passing laws limiting the power of judges to hold reporters to contempt of court

Circulation down in England


Circulations of legal newspapers in England continue to be held down by the stamp tax on each copy

Espionage Act


Under the Espionage Act, U.S. government revokes the mailing privileges of many non-mainstream (socialist) newspapers

And the war press begins!


President Woodrow Wilson leads United States into World War I and hires press agent to support effort; George Creel also serves on censorship board

The era of radios


Number of U.S. radio stations skyrockets to 576; “toll” is charged for use of airtime on stations

Radio Act


Radio Act establishes a Federal Radio Commission to assign radio frequencies and grant licenses; replaced by Federal Communications Commission in 1934

Near vs. Minnesota


U.S. Supreme Court rules in Near v. Minnesota that prior restraint of the press is allowed under only the most unusual of circumstances

Broadcast begins

1941 - 2013

TV broadcasting begins in U.S

Watergate scandal


“Pentagon Papers” released; Supreme Court finally rules that government’s argument for prior restraint of the press is not sufficiently strong in this case

Grenada Journalism


Reporters blocked from covering initial stages of U.S. invasion of Caribbean island of Grenada; group of journalists that managed to land on the island were prevented by U.S. military officials from reporting what was happening for two days

Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises


determined that fair use is not a defense to the appropriation of work by a famous political figure simply because of the public interest in learning of that political figure's account of an historic event

Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps


Hepps brought suit against Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., after it published a series of articles alleging that Plaintiff had links to organized crime, and had used their position to exercise influence over the government. Ruling was that a private party cannot bring suit against a newspaper for slander or libel, without bearing the burden of showing falsity and fault, before recovering damages.

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier


Public school officials can censor school-sponsored newspapers, because the newspapers are part of the school curriculum rather than a forum for public expression.

Hustler v Farwell


The First Amendment prohibits public figures from recovering damages for intentional infliction of emotional harm unless the publication contained a false statement made with actual malice.

Virgil v. School Board of Columbia County


An Eleventh Circuit panel held that school officials can remove books from the curriculum if they believe they are too vulgar for students.

Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.


This case rejected the argument that a separate opinion privilege existed against libel. It was seen by legal commentators as the end of an era that began with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and continued with Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., in which the Court clarified and greatly expanded the range and scope of what could be said in the press without fear of litigation.

Cohen v. Cowles Media Company


The First Amendment does not bar a promissory estoppel cause of action against respondents. The Supreme Court ruled that a breach of contract was inappropriate.

Turner Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission


The rule enunciated by this case is that broadcasters are to be afforded First Amendment rights in freedom of speech, but they cannot abrogate the rights of other broadcasters, or force them out of the market.

Pyle v. School Committee of South Hadley


The court held that Massachusetts law protects students' rights to engage in vulgar, non-school-sponsored speech as long as it does not cause a disruption at school.

Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union


Congress passed provisions in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet. Two provisions criminalized the display of "indecent" or "patently offensive" online communications.

Florida Star v. BFJ


Found the publication of a rape victim's name to NOT be constitutional because the reporter viewed the name negligently left on police reports laying around at the police department.

Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District


The court ruling held that school officials may not punish a student for the content of his or her personal homepage unless the material creates a substantial disruption at school.

Lacks v. Ferguson Reorganized School District R-2


The panel held that school officials did not violate the First Amendment when they terminated the teacher for allowing her students to use profanity in their classroom work.

Henerey v. City of St. Charles


The panel held that school officials can require students to obtain prior approval for campaign slogans during school-sponsored elections.

West v. Derby Unified School District No. 260


A Tenth Circuit panel held that school officials had reason to believe a student’s display of the Confederate flag would cause a substantial disruption or collide with the rights of others.

Saxe v. State College Area School District


The issue was whether a high school anti-harassment policy that prohibits a broad range of speech offensive to others violates the First Amendment. A Third Circuit panel held that such a broadly worded policy prohibits too much speech and violates the First Amendment.

Bartnicki v. Vopper


United States Supreme Court case relieving a media defendant of liability for broadcasting a taped conversation of a labor official talking to other union people about a teachers' strike

J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that school officials could punish the student because the student's web site created a substantial disruption of school activities.