“On Media Free Speech” is a new year’s resolution for those who wish to protect free speech in the postmodern era. Although it has only been a year, this year has seen increasing concerns over the protection of free speech on the Internet and at universities. There are fundamental principles at work here that must be seriously considered to prevent further erosion of our cherished constitutional freedoms.
Among other fundamental protections, the First Amendment is often referred to as our country’s founding document. It was added to the US Constitution by framers who understood that government must protect its citizens’ free speech. They recognized the need to maintain a balance of power between liberty and authority. Principles of free speech have not changed throughout the ages, despite our complicated modern world.
Today, however, with many changes taking place both in government and in culture, including changing attitudes about gender, race, and religion, the freedoms of individuals have taken on new importance. People are concerned about being politically correct and are unwilling to speak out or defend their rights on any topic, including ideas and values that clash with the majority. A key concept of free speech is that in the democracy of a country, all citizens are allowed to express and receive information from each other about any topic they choose. It does not matter if they agree or disagree with what the speakers are saying. They have the right to remain silent if they find the content offensive.
The ability to criticize ideas, movies, and other forms of entertainment is a hallmark of a free and open society. Suppose it is permissible for businesses to censure certain expressions of opinions and ideas in the marketplace. In that case, it should be permissible for civic groups to limit certain views regarding social issues. This means that some civic organizations and certain civic groups will limit certain views on social issues to ensure a balanced society. And when it comes to media, there is no acceptable content, and everyone must respect that.
There is a difference between media and entertainment. Entertainment is something you do as an action, while media is what you consume, such as news, magazine, books, TV shows, etc. But, that is not true in all cases. There are instances where the media’s free speech rights conflict with other interests, and you may wish to discuss this at length with your legal adviser.
First, let’s look at the basic premise of the First Amendment, which is that of freedom of speech. That is the right to speak and to petition the government for a redress of your grievances. When citizens exercise this right, they are not being persecuted for having political opinions, religious convictions, or even merely for having an opinion that differs from the majority. They are being persecuted for exercising a right recognized in the Constitution and protected by law as a fundamental right. That right is the right to peacefully assemble, peacefully picket, peacefully protest, and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Concerning media coverage on topics of public concern, it would be considered protected speech, but the term is rather elastic. Freedom of speech guarantees the right to speak and petition the government for a redress of grievances but does not protect your right to participate in a particular activity. Media is often blamed for “rigor,” but there would be very few sources of information available on many topics without freedom of speech, and the news media would be rendered toothless. It is often said that the First Amendment was meant to guarantee a free press and that some sources of information, such as the media, can distort the actual facts. To avoid the risk of the law cracking down on free speech, businesses can take several steps to comply with the First Amendment. A business can refuse to participate in the media, hire only highly qualified speakers, provide space on its premises for the media, and refuse to give media interviews when the media asks questions that might undermine the corporation’s business model.
There are limits to free speech and the media, and you should be aware of those. You cannot throw tomatoes at a newspaper or newsman, and you certainly cannot slander a company, government, individual, or their idea. Likewise, you cannot burn flags on the grounds of a government building, desecrate cemeteries, or anywhere else. But you can still express discontent, demand change, or report news the press cannot legally publish. In short, you can engage in any lawful activities that the First Amendment protects against, but you cannot go so far as to expect the media to act in a vacuum beyond the law.