Are there any substantial legal distinctions between the First Amendment's right of freedom of speech compared to freedom of the press?

I'm specifically looking for any distinctions officially drawn by any of the three branches of U.S. government.

To clarify further, I understand speech and press to be modes of expression. Freedom of speech has limits of reason, as in yelling fire in a crowded theater. What I'm wondering about is if there are concrete, factual examples where the limits on expression have been explicitly distinguished based on mode of expression.

2 Answers 2


No official distinction appears to exist within the US government, indeed it is not clear what the difference would refer to. A special press privilege was claimed in Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 but rejected by the courts, the privilege to refuse to respond to grand jury subpoena. States may have specific "shield laws", such as this Washington law which immunizes "the news media" against subpoenas and other compulsory processes, but would not apply to me as an individual.

  • Yes, the WA state law is interesting (particularly as I live in the state), but it's not what I was looking for; it seems to creates a new and distinct right or immunity, unrelated to the right(s) of expression. Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 20:55

I found an example seems to fit what I'm looking for, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978). I'm just starting to read it, but thought it might serve as an example to prompt other, more informed, responses.

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