Web growth bad news for First Amendment, Knight Chair candidate says

Emily Andrews

If an alien came to Earth, got on the Internet and looked for the top searches, Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears and “American Idol” would show up. This is a scenario Knight Chair candidate Michael Roberts used yesterday to demonstrate the difference between electronic and print media.

“The Internet is evolving as an entertainment media, which is not good for the First Amendment,” Roberts said in his lecture, themed “Impact of the Internet on the First Amendment.”

Roberts, deputy managing editor of staff development/projects at The Arizona Republic, was the third of four candidates for the Knight Chair position.

He used history to describe how the Internet affects the First Amendment and emphasized two focuses that shape the amendment: access and guiding values.

Roberts talked about access to information, beginning with the invention of moveable type 500 years ago. Until then, only clergy read the Bible, telling people what it should mean to their lives. After moveable type, people started reading and making up their minds as to what it meant.

Pam McCarthy, teacher of journalism at North Canton Hoover High School, said it is interesting to see how different events can affect the First Amendment.

Guiding values is about discussion, Roberts said. He talked about the “marketplace of ideas,” which is where consumers get information by talking with others.

People need to enthusiastically guard the marketplace of ideas, he said.

Today, access and guiding values are still important, but they have changed.

Just as moveable type was important to access 500 years ago, the Internet is important today because it is changing how people access news.

He gave some figures to think about in relation to the Internet. The Internet was opened to the general population in 1993. By 1997, there were 200 million Web sites, and in 2005, there were 11.5 billion.

The Internet can provide information on pretty much anything someone could want, Roberts said, including news, information, public record and personal expression.

“The Web is everywhere,” he said. “You can’t stop information.”

The Internet is the new marketplace of ideas, Roberts said, and people can choose what they want to do, where they want to go and what to put on the Internet.

He gave a general outline of the difference between print and electronic media, and said print is more geared toward truth, logic, reason and contrasting viewpoints. Electronic media is more geared toward entertainment, emotions, feelings and similar views.

“You can get anything you want on the Internet 24/7,” Roberts said. “But you can lose truth, accuracy and verification – in terms of the First Amendment, that is a dangerous thing.”

The next Knight Chair lecture will be given by Alice Bonner on March 8.

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Emily Andrews at [email protected].