Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Attacks On Free Speech Have Resumed

On a par with our economic crisis is the danger posed to free speech by supporters of the so called “Fairness Doctrine.”

The Federal Communications Commission allocates frequencies to radio and television stations. Certain frequencies are local stations with fairly weak transmissions. Others are “megastations” with powerful transmitters and longer ranges. The FCC serves as a “traffic cop” in order to ensure that transmissions not be chaotic. No one disputes the need for keeping radio and television transmissions untangled. It is policing what is said on the airwaves that raises serious free speech issues.

Things have changed a lot since the 1920’s, when there was a thin sprinkling of AM radio stations across the country. FM radio has been in the picture for years. It has been joined by satellite radio and television, as well as cable TV. The internet has made the transmission of one’s ideas universally available. I have

two web sites, Rudi Stettner and Magdeburger Joe as well as regular posts on The American Sentinel.

The entire endeavour has cost me less in a year’s time than a carton of cigarettes. What is available to me is available to anyone. Those who want to fund broadcast and print media can do so with no legal restrictions.

When I was living in Italy, each of the major political parties had their own newspaper. The Communists had L’Unita (Unity). The Socialists had Il Popolo (The People). And the fascists (Italian Social Movement) had Il Secolo (The Century. This was in addition to all of the newspapers and magazines that served a locality with whatever political coloration had evolved over the years.

It would be wonderful to see party newspapers here to complement the regional periodicals. Despite Italy’s colourful party newspapers, America does a great job of providing for a diversity of taste and opinion. The major television networks seem to be very biased towards the left. Talk radio is far more inclined to the right. The distribution across the political spectrum within each news medium is uneven, but people know where to tune in what range of opinion. The thought of someone passing down as a legal decision what is “fairness” is almost sinister.

There is a Republican Senator named Richard Lugar of Indiana who has according to the Blogbat blog come out in favour of the so called Fairness doctrine.

The authour of the article in Blogbat was visiting Congress with a delegation from the World Affairs Council. He reported on the meeting with Senator Lugar as follows.

“During our visit with the Indiana Republican on 7 November, he seemed to offer his support for a revived “Fairness Doctrine” tailored to target only one viewpoint – that of the comparatively modest talk radio industry. On the topic of such legislation, Lugar seemed sympathetic to the significant hostility among the left towards what he called “irresponsible” “right wing” radio, using catch-phrases right out of the Idiots Guide to Liberalism, intimating that talk radio was somehow a rogue entity that merely stirred up the common people to the consternation of all-knowing legislators. (Never mind the rogue entity on Capitol Hill that is attempting to usurp the Constitution.)”

In reading this report, I am chilled by the use of the word “Irresponsible”.

There is a legal definition to that word. If I state that eating peanut butter cures cancer, that is irresponsible. If I urge people to send money to a fake company or charity, that is irresponsible.

During the Rwandan genocide, radio announcers broadcast instructions to perpetrators of the violence.That is speech that is rightfully being prosecuted as a crime under war crimes statutes.

Unless a media outlet promotes injurious medical claims, facilitates fraud or promotes violence, they should be left alone. If you think that someone has foolish political beliefs, then you are free to seek an outlet for promoting your viewpoint. . Any attempt to define frankness, rudeness or eccentricity as “irresponsible is a threat to free speech and our way of life. I hope someone who opposes the fairness doctrine runs against Senator Lugar when he is up for reelection to the Senate. I will gladly support such an opponent , even if he or she is a Democrat.

Our country is facing critical decisions about its future. No voice should be silenced. This is intrinsic to our constitution and our way of life. The fig leaf of “fairness” does not impart any decency to naked censorship. Those who do not support free speech should not speak for us in Congress. We should start keeping score cards on our legislators, both Democrats and republicans starting yesterday.

I am willing to write off much of what was said in the campaign as plain hard ball tactics. Attacks on free speech must be however taken extremely seriously. Now that talk is resuming of reviving the “fairness doctrine”, I am reminding readers of the “Missouri Truth Squads” during the election campaign with the video beneath this posting Our freedoms are not being swallowed whole. They are being nibbled at bit by bit. We must remain vigilant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In Israel, which is supposed to be a democracy, there is no such thing as free speech. Or Freedom of Press. If you wear a t-shirt saying 'No Arabs, No Terror' guess what will happen! You will be arrested. Would you be arrested in US for wearing a t-shirt in America that says 'I do not like Obama'? Never know what is coming up the pipeline here in the US