WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Power of the First Amendment

Mar 29, 2015

When Dr. Kyu Ho Youm was moving to the United States from South Korea in 1980, it did not take long for him to recognize the freedoms Americans enjoyed.  He said South Korea was not as democratic then as it is now.

“In South Korea, especially during that particular period of time, the government imposed absolute censorship on any news about some kind of civilian revolt against the military government,” said Youm.

“But when I boarded Braniff Airlines in South Korea for my departure for the United States, I could see the cover pages of Time and Newsweek. There were full stories about the civilian revolt uprising against the South Korean government.”

Once he arrived in the U.S., he also came across many television stories about the revolt.

Youm said the First Amendment allows Americans to hold their government accountable.

“Freedom of the Press is an extremely important countervailing force to those in power.”

Youm is an expert on the First Amendment.  He’s the Jonathan Marshall First Amendment Chair at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.  Youm received his Bachelor’s degree in Seoul, and his Master’s degree and Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.  He holds Master of Law degrees from Yale Law School and Oxford University.

News Director Rich Egger (foreground) and Dr. Kyu Ho Youm talk about the First Amendment
Credit Courtesy Yong Tang

He was in Macomb to give the keynote speech during the annual Journalism Day celebration at Western Illinois University.

Youm said the First Amendment often comes under attack – and that’s good. He said it’s designed to make people uncomfortable. 

He said the most serious current attacks come from the academic community.

“People are invited to speak to various university campuses, but sometimes they are disinvited simply because some vocal minority does not like what the invited speaker might say. And that is not the way the academic system should operate,” said Youm, adding Freedom of Speech should be absolute – even including bigotry and hate speech.

“The fundamental question is how to respond to bigotry and hatred. (It’s) with more reasoned speech.  Eventually Americans are wise enough to know what is good for them.”

Youm said it’s a lot more complicated now to determine who is a journalist. He said collecting information and sharing it does not necessarily make someone a journalist.

“When we talk about a journalist – in the sense of the Freedom of the Press under the First Amendment – we are talking about someone who knows what he or she is doing for the public, not necessarily for his own ego trip,” Youm said.

He said responsible journalism has everything to do with what’s good for society.