Keep Talking

Journalists go to jail for it, soldiers in Iraq die for it, and too many of us take it for granted.

The freedom to speak our minds without fearing a knock on the door–or on the head–from our government is what separates us from a lot of countries we wouldn’t want to live in.

You can hate the administration, or love it. Mock the president’s malapropisms or praise his singleminded determination to stay the course wherever it leads us, and you can do it with relative impugnity.

Try airing Lil’ Kim Jung Il on North Korea’s version of Comedy Central and see how long you remain on the air or the census rolls.

We have become so used to our freedom to kibbitz and complain and derride and excoriate that to marvel at it seems almost naive, but it shouldn’t.

On the other side of the coin, there is still a lot you can’t say or do on broadcast television. At first blush being able to say words that make others blush pales in comparison to the freedom to criticize your political leaders, but the two are not inseparable.

What if your broadcast curse is meant to express frustration with the government. To bowlderize that voice for fear of offending when offending is the point gets to the absurdity of the government picking our national vocabulary for us. My guess is that if David Kelly’s writers had the entire palette of our muscular English vocabulary to express their views on war or racial or sexual intollerance, Boston Legal might not be legal in the FCC’s eyes or ears.

First Amendment think tank The Media Institute has, for several years, been pushing Freedom of Speech Week, which starts Oct. 15. Too bad the Newseum couldn’t have opened Oct. 15 as it was initially planning to do, with its stories-high First Amendment etched on the outside of the building. But it really needs to be etched on the outside of all goverment agencies.

I know, there are so many weeks out there to celebrate something, from Maine Clean Water Week to Arbor Week, that they can sometimes seem to be overkill. Not to mention the days and months. I still can’t figure out why Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t a month at all (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).

But I digress.

I think it is worth stopping and thinking about free speach, about how much we have, and how much more we would like to have.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.