Free Speech and the FCC

Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

When people, even people who have the power of addressing many others via various media outlets, begin to say things that I don’t like, there are two ways I can react. Either I prefer that their ideas be engaged in a free and open interchange of ideas, or I prefer that their voice be squashed. The latter may be superficially gratifying, but it goes against everything I believe about how society should operate.

Right now, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, with about thirty other organizations, have written to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking them to grant their “Petition for Inquiry on hate speech in media.”  The petition was filed in January 2009. Inquiry on hate speech? What is this, the Inquisition? The NHMC insists that hate, extremism, and misinformation have been increasing and that the “current media landscape is a safe-haven for hate and extremism.”  While having no clue what extremism they’re talking about, I must add that I know popular media outlets are very selective about what they report, how they report it, and often, supposedly hard news programs add a lot of commentary. (Even a quick perusal of will leave you no doubt.) In addition, the commentary programs can become vitriolic or unreasonable. I’m not defending [insert news outlet here].  I’m defending free speech. In other words, I believe that the FCC should not be involved in either regulating what things are said on television and radio (or any other medium) or mandating that counterpoints and opposing views be aired. (How they could do this is a mystery). I believe that it is of no concern to any government agency what people say, or with what intent.

People have the right, and must have the right, to say hateful things, to try to convince people of false things, and to say inflammatory things—even if with the specific intention to inflame.  Maybe people shouldn’t say such things. But people have the right to say things they shouldn’t. If they don’t, we must ask, who decides what is okay to say, and on what basis? If you’re okay with some speech being shut down, what will you do when they come to shut you down?

Furthermore, fairness should not (and anyway cannot) be imposed by the government. “Fairness,” if it must exist, should come about much more organically: by the freedom of those who disagree to express their views as much as anyone else! No speech should be either supported or suppressed by the government. If there is a grossly overwhelming bias towards, say, a particular stand on an issue or a particular political leaning in some region or among some demographic, it is the government’s duty to… do absolutely nothing about it. They have other duties altogether. The letter written by the NHMC says that “as the [FCC] deliberates how the public interest will be served in the digital age, it should consider the extent of hate speech in media, and its effects.”  No, actually, it shouldn’t! Besides, “hate speech” is code for “speech I don’t want people to hear because I disagree.” Bogus designations like “hate speech” open the door to shutting down all kinds of speech—whatever is deemed unacceptable by those in power at any given time. It’s a hideous idea that the FCC would consider implementing any actions in accordance with NHMC’s asinine requests, and hopefully they are not. If we lose freedom of speech, we lose the freedom that undergirds all the others.

If you disagree with a point of view, engage it in rational debate, don’t silence it. Silencing opposing views reveals the weakness of your own view. The NHMC has the right to express its frighteningly oppressive views. And I have the right to express my views. At least for now. And my view is that First Amendment rights are vital to any society that wants to call itself free.


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