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C. Edwin Baker to Speak on "Theories of Democracy and Freedom of the Press," Dec. 16


C. Edwin Baker '72, the Nicholas F. Gallichio Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, will deliver a lecture as part of the Yale Law and Technology Speaker Series titled "Theories of Democracy and Freedom of the Press," on Monday, December 16, at 4:00 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.


The First Amendment of the United States Constitution declares that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Despite the closeness of "speech" and "press" in the text, C. Edwin Baker argues that the two constitutional protections serve fundamentally different roles.

"My view of the First Amendment," says Baker, "is one that would assert that freedom of speech is guaranteed primarily as a protection of individual liberty or autonomy, while the press clause serves a very different, much more functional role in the constitutional order. You don't protect institutions out of a concern for individual liberty or autonomy, you have to have an instrumentalist argument for protecting institutions."

Baker continues, "Constitutional protection of freedom of the press is based on an idea of the free press being necessary for democracy." Because of this, different conceptions of democracy can lead to different interpretations of the freedom of the press. In his talk on Monday, Baker will outline four theories of democracy and show how these differing outlooks have "led to different inclinations about the appropriate interpretation of the press clause."

Baker provides an example of one role the press can play in a democracy. "That's the idea that you need a press to watch for abuses on the part of the government. Its ability to expose that is both a deterrent and a corrective for abuses of government power." This is the one role of the press that all four theories embrace.

Media ownership is one issue that Baker plans to take up in his talk, in which different understandings of freedom of the press are currently doing battle. Recent changes in law and decisions by the FCC have led to greater concentration of the ownership of television stations, radio stations, and newspapers in a few corporate hands. Some see a threat to the freedom of the press in this; others see an expression of free market principles. Baker will address "why it is that the two sides in the debate are largely talking past each other."

Baker's talk will be followed by a discussion led by Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at YLS.

The Yale Law and Technology Society Speaker Series brings speakers to YLS to address a range of issues, from First Amendment law to Internet technology.