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What You Need To Know About Press


The 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan is generally considered one of the most significant developments in the broadening of the freedom of the press for the decision which the Supreme Court made on it. The case arose from an advertisement printed by The New York Times advocating for Martin Luther King, Jr. and containing statements against the Montgomery, Alabama police force. Alabama officials who felt offended by the advertisement brought a libel action against the newspaper.

The Supreme Court found in favor of the press organization, holding that for libel to be proved the complainant would have to show that the press had possessed "actual malice" in reporting facts which they knew to be untrue. This ruling thus established a new yardstick to which public figures and government figures would have to measure up to in pressing libel suits against the press. It also generally acted to expand the right to freedom of the press.

Prior to this ruling, much of the press felt constrained by libel laws from reporting as fully as they would have liked on civil rights issues and protests in the South, fearing that the states in question might sue them for their reporting. The law thus expanded the ability of the press to widely cover the civil rights issue and other controversial topics.

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