How Broadcasters Are Fulfilling the First Amendment’s Free Press Promise

Curtis LeGeyt at the headquarters of the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC, on April 13, 2021.
President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt at NAB headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Jay Mallin/NAB)

Over two centuries ago, when the Founding Fathers set out to create a “more perfect Union,” they laid out a blueprint for our system of government in the Constitution. Understanding the need to enumerate basic freedoms and individual rights that could not be infringed upon by the government, the Founders also enshrined a Bill of Rights as a means of upholding a fragile democracy.

Foremost among the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment. By providing for freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government, the First Amendment is the cornerstone to an informed and engaged populace. As we commemorate First Amendment Day, we celebrate 233 years in which the press has delivered the news free of fear of retaliation from the government thanks to the rights protected by these 45 words.

While the way news is gathered and delivered has changed throughout the history of the United States, the pressing need for trusted journalism has not. From natural disasters, global pandemics and conflict to heartwarming stories about heroic Americans and acts of public service, radio and television broadcasters deliver trustworthy news in their local communities every day.

Broadcasters face an added responsibility come November when Americans head to the polls to cast their votes in the midterm elections. By educating voters about candidates and issues on the ballot, working to get out the vote, providing reliable and accurate election updates and providing fact-based information on vote-counting processes and electoral procedures, local radio and television stations will be the go-to source for information about our democracy for millions. 

With the rising trend of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms and growing cuts to newspapers nationwide, broadcast radio and TV have an even more crucial role to play in delivering local news in every community.”

— Curtis LeGeyt, NAB

The proliferation of news online has given many Americans access to virtually unlimited information right at their fingertips, yet local radio and television continue to be the most trusted sources for reliable, fact-based reporting. With the rising trend of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms and growing cuts to newspapers nationwide, broadcast radio and TV have an even more crucial role to play in delivering local news in every community. 

Of course, with great trust comes great responsibility. Broadcasters have responded to the changing world by innovating, investing in their newsrooms and expanding their operations to reach audiences whenever and wherever they are. Podcasting, HD radio, webcasting and smart speakers are empowering radio broadcasters to grow their programming slate that is readily accessible to listeners. 

Television broadcasters are transitioning to the ATSC 3.0 standard, currently on the air in more than 50 markets with several more readying to launch, providing more consumer-friendly features and greater capacity for unique, valuable programming. Broadcast TV stations have also significantly increased their local-news programming in recent years, with the number of local news telecasts increasing by 35% between November 2011 and November 2021. 

But providing cutting-edge, accurate local journalism is expensive, and the business model has been made all the more challenging by the rise of the Big Tech platforms. By acting as gatekeepers and controlling search and discovery of local news content on the one hand, while using their unparalleled reach and scale to dominate the local digital advertising marketplace on the other, Big Tech is distorting the business model for local media as our audiences move online. 

This market power allows the Big Tech companies to dictate the terms for monetizing content on their platforms, preventing local news outlets from fully realizing the value of news that appears online. And while broadcasters are subject to strict regulations regarding the size and scope of their stations, Big Tech platforms enjoy essentially unregulated growth and huge profits. Leveling the playing field to enable local broadcasters to compete for the betterment of trusted journalism and localism is our focus at the National Association of Broadcasters. 

When James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in 1789, the pressing issues of the day may have been different, but the need for a free and open press was the same. From our nation’s founding to today, local journalism has endured through chaos and strife, victory and triumph. Broadcasters continue to embrace the tenets set forth by the First Amendment and are working in communities across the country to ensure that the strength and freedom of the press is unwavering. ■

Curtis LeGeyt

Curtis LeGeyt is the president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.