VOA Special English
Can the Media Criticize Government Officials?


    Clashes between the media and government officials are nothing new.

    One clash goes back to 1960, when The New York Times newspaper published an advertisement from a civil rights group.

    The ad objected to violence against peaceful protesters. It said that student activists in Montgomery, Alabama. had gathered at the State Capitol and sung “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to call attention to African-Americans’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.

    In answer, the ad said, student leaders of the protest were expelled from school and armed police circled the grounds of a local college.

    A city official from Montgomery criticized the newspaper ad for misleading information. L.B. Sullivan launched a case against The Times for libel – publishing information that damaged his reputation.

    The Supreme Court ruled against him. Yes, the justices said, the ad did not have all the details right. The students had song a different patriotic song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And the police did not technically surround the college campus.

    But, the court said, these mistakes were minor and harmless. More important was the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

    In this case, the Supreme Court protected people’s right to speak up against government officials, even if the attacks are unpleasant.

    Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    misleading - adj. causing someone to believe something that is not true

    reputation - n. the common opinion that people have about someone or something