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30-60 minutes
  • Journalism
  • National Security
  • War
  • 6-12

  1. Explain to students that tensions between the press and the military have always existed, as the goals of each group are often in conflict. Reporters want information to flow freely, while the military guards national security interests. The debate over how to balance these competing interests continues today.
  2. Tell your students you are going to talk about the First Amendment. Make sure your students understand what each of the five freedoms mean.
  3. Tell your students there are a few limits on these rights, mostly relating to times when harm could come to others, but the legislative and judicial branches are very careful about putting unnecessary limits on these freedoms. Today, you’ll be focusing on freedom of the press. Ask them how they think this freedom applies to their lives.
  4. Ask your students if they can think of a situation where freedom of the press might be dangerous or should be limited. When might sharing information freely be a risky thing to do?
    • Freedom of the press allows them access to a wide variety of news and information, allows them to publish information through e-mails or on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, or such.
    • Answers might include: during a war, right after a terrorist attack.
  1. Tell them they are going to take part in a debate to decide if freedom of the press should be limited when the government believes that a story could put the safety of the country at risk.
  2. Divide the class into four groups. Two groups will play the part of lawyers for The National Post. The other two groups will play lawyers for the government. Hand out the Right to Know vs. Security Risk handout (give the appropriate version to each group). Give your students time to work together to prepare for the courtroom battle.
  3. After the journalists and government have prepared their arguments, the courtroom debate begins. Alternate between the journalists and the government, allowing each to deliver one of their arguments at a time, then allowing the opposite side to ask a question.
  4. When all four groups have delivered their arguments, come back together as a whole class and have all act as a panel of judges. Having heard from both sides, take a vote to see what the students think should be done: print the story or block the story?

  • Right to Know vs. Security Risk handout (download). Half of the class will need the Journalists’ Legal Team sheet; half will need the Government’s Legal Team sheet.      

Discuss the outcome of the vote. Ask someone who voted for the winning option to explain his or her reasoning. Ask someone who voted against it to explain his or her reasoning.

  • Were there other arguments on either side that weren’t made?
  • Where would you draw the line between protecting the free press and protecting safety?
  • What would have to have been different about this situation for you to change your vote?

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