Anti-free speech during Free Speech Week

This is, according to the News Media Alliance, Free Speech Week.

(Which I found out too late to include that in the newspaper this week. Media companies and organizations are notorious for bad internal communication.)

David Chavern wrote last year:

Do you remember what it was like to not be able to get the answer to an elusive question as soon as you asked it? Like how long sea turtles live? Or how far away is the sun? Or the name of that actor from that one movie? Before the omni-present Google and smartphone, these answers were likely missing (or required a lot of work to find). So when these questions came up in the past, conversation would stop.

That’s because the language of America is our common understanding of the facts of the world. Knowledge is a type of social currency, allowing us to converse and tackle the problems we collectively face. Without it, no democratic system can continue to function.

These common understandings tie us together. They allow us to communicate effectively and work together. When they are absent or under stress, like they are at this moment in society, it may sometimes feel like we will never recover that common language. But journalists are out there every day on the front lines to uncover the facts and understandings that will allow us to find our way back to a more productive democracy where decisions can be made based on mutually agreed-upon facts.

To fortify and flourish, we need to protect free speech. Journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of censorship so that readers have unfettered access to the facts. Free speech is our most important tool in challenging abuses of power. It was a team of journalists at the Indianapolis Star that broke the Larry Nassar scandal, leading to his imprisonment this year. It was journalists who revealed the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and journalists who dug into Donald Trump’s suspected tax schemes. We’ve witnessed these brave men and women go into storm surges, disasters and war zones to bring us the news.

Yet across the globe, we have also seen egregious attacks on the press. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was captured and murdered for practicing his profession; a shooter entered the Capital Gazette newsroom, killing five members of their staff; The Boston Globe received bomb threats – to name a few. So far, 43 journalists this year have been killed simply for reporting the news. These attacks, while unbelievably tragic in their own right, are also denying citizens their right to be informed. They are silencing the language of America.

This year during Free Speech Week, we must remember the sacrifices of these individuals and demand better protections for the Fourth Estate. The freedom of the press is a fundamental principle of the United States and one we must seek to protect.

The News Media Alliance has joined Reporters Without Borders and other organizations to encourage voters in the U.S. to ask their congressional candidates ahead of the midterm elections where they stand on press freedom. I urge you to speak with your elected officials and work to secure free speech and protections for journalists so that the language of America may thrive.

So what a great time (/sarcasm) for the Washington Free Beacon to report:

A majority of Americans believe the First Amendment should be rewritten and are willing to crack down on free speech, as well as the press, according to a new poll.

More than 60 percent of Americans agree on restricting speech in some way, while a slim majority, 51 percent, want to see the First Amendment rewritten to “reflect the cultural norms of today.” The Campaign for Free Speech, which conducted the survey, said the results “indicate free speech is under more threat than previously believed.”

“The findings are frankly extraordinary,” executive director Bob Lystad told the Washington Free Beacon. “Our free speech rights and our free press rights have evolved well over 200 years, and people now seem to be rethinking them.”

Of the 1,004 respondents, young people were the most likely to support curbing free expression and punishing those who engage in “hate speech.” Nearly 60 percent of Millennials—respondents between the ages of 21 and 38—agreed that the Constitution “goes too far in allowing hate speech in modern America” and should be rewritten, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers. A majority of Millennials also supported laws that would make “hate speech” a crime—of those supporters, 54 percent said violators should face jail time.

American hostility to the First Amendment did not stop at speech. Many would also like to see a crackdown on the free press. Nearly 60 percent of respondents agreed that the “government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false.” Of those respondents, 46 percent supported possible jail time.

The poll was released just two days after two University of Connecticut students were arrested for allegedly saying racial slurs in a viral video. The 21-year-old suspects were allegedly playing “a game in which they yelled vulgar words,” according to the police report. Lystad said such incidents and the rise of social media may be behind the increased willingness of Americans to curb speech rights.

“I think [our findings] are fueled in large part because of a rise of hate speech, but traditionally, hate speech is protected in the First Amendment,” Lystad said. “The Supreme Court has upheld that principle time and time again.”

Lystad launched the Campaign for Free Speech to advocate for preserving free and open dialogue in America. The group emphasizes that hate speech should be denounced, but does not think censorship is the answer. The group plans to push back against efforts to restrict speech at the local, state, and federal levels.

“Hate speech should be condemned, but legally, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech, not censorship,” he said. “Our primary focus is education, and to help people better understand the First Amendment, free speech, free press, and why it’s so vital to our democracy.”

If that poll is accurate, it proves that a majority of Americans (that is, those who support restrictions on free speech) are idiots who should start restricting free speech by shutting the hell up. I will not. Ever.

 

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