The Newseum

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I discovered the Newseum during a recent trip to Washington DC. As the name suggest, it’s a museum about the gathering and reporting of news and it’s an absolute must for anyone interested in journalism, current affairs, politics and all things similar and related.

Inevitably, it’s world history, current affairs and the like through an American lens – extensive coverage of the Vietnam War; 9/11; the role of the FBI; little about the role of America in the rest of the world; more about the Kennedys than the British or any other royal family.

But there are exhibits covering a range of issues around reporting that have global resonance – what drives journalists to report, even in conditions of immense danger; the ethics of reporting and the importance of reporting the truth; presenting the story to the public; freedom of the press; privacy versus security; the rights of the individual versus the rights of the state.

The Newseum presented these topics against a constitutional backdrop, with particular reference to the first amendment to the US Constitution – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

One exhibit looked at where the tension points have been – and continue to be – in interpreting the First Amendment. When considering freedom of the press, for instance, the position of bloggers and whether they should have the same protections as traditional press journalists still seem to be testing Constitutional boundaries.  And that will continue as new channels of communications, media and types of reporter and commentator evolve.

I can’t tell whether the presence of a codified Constitution and a body of decisions made by reference to it result in different views on ethics, privacy, security and press freedom. But it feels that there’s a pre-existing framework that the UK lacks – even though we set out rights of the individual versus the King in Magna Carta and the rights and liberties of subjects in the Bill of Rights in 1689.

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