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Hands off the First Amendment!

By Henry Lamb
web posted December 13, 2010

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"Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…," but the progressives on the Federal Communications Commission think their job is to do just that – regulate the speech of individuals, and of the press.  Speaking to the Columbia School of Journalism, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, spelled out his idea for a "community values test" to be applied to media outlets with every license-renewal application.

This is not a new idea from Copps.  In 2007, at a Walter Cronkite Awards dinner, he told journalists that license holders should be required to meet a laundry list of standards that the FCC dictates.  What happened to the idea that in a free market, consumers set the standards?  If the market does not like what the broadcaster is producing, the broadcaster will soon be out of business. 

The FCC's only legitimate function is to see that broadcasters comply with laws enacted by Congress.  It is certainly not the function of the FCC to dictate the content broadcasters are required to air.  Copps is also bent out of shape because there are not as many black and Latino owners of broadcast stations as he thinks there should be.  He wants the licensing process to insure that the distribution of ownership opportunities meets his requirements, even if it means taxing successful broadcast stations to provide a subsidy for new minority operators. 

Could it be that Copps believes that the FCC is not limited by the First Amendment?  Could it be that Copps thinks that requiring broadcast outlets to present content dictated by the FCC is not really "abridging" the freedom of the press? Or, could it be that he just doesn't give a damn what the Constitution says?

Since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned during the Reagan de-regulation era, progressives have been trying every way they can to regain control over the flow of information.  Talk radio flourished when the Fairness Doctrine ended, and progressives can't stand it.  Progressives joined forces and launched "Air America" in 2004 to compete with Rush Limbaugh and other conservative broadcasters.

Air America's most famous personality, Al Franken, tried to compete for three years, but in 2007, Air America went broke, and Franken announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.  The market continually rejects progressive commentary programming, while embracing more conservative programs.  At its peak, Air America reached 1.4 million unique listeners.  Rush Limbaugh reaches at least 15 million listeners per week, according to Talkers magazine.

In almost every category, FOX News' audience is more than CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and HLN combined. 

The market speaks.  According to Copps, it is saying the wrong thing.  Surely, the message would be different if there were a greater presence of black and Latino owners.  If people choose not to listen to progressive commentary, then Copps and his buddies will force them to listen, by requiring broadcast outlets to meet their "community values" test.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is lobbying the FCC to ban Rush Limbaugh for what Sharpton considers to be "racist hate speech."  According to Sharpton's logic, any opposition to reparations is hate speech that should be banned from the airwaves.    

In a free society, it is not the job of government to decide what people should hear.  In a socialist, communist, or other dictatorial society, deciding what people should hear is the first priority of government.

President Obama's Information Czar, Cass Sunstein, wants the government to "abridge" free speech even further.  In a radio interview he describes how he wants Congress to require internet websites that post political commentary to also post a link to opposing views. Sunstein says it would be better if people would do this voluntarily, but since they won't, Congress should mandate it. Sunstein says:

"[ F]rom the standpoint of democracy… a heterogeneous society… requires something other than free, or publicly unrestricted, individual choices. On the contrary, it imposes two distinctive requirements. First, people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance."

These people obviously have no respect for the Constitution.  While Sunstein does talk about getting Congress to impose his restrictions on free speech, Copps doesn't hesitate to suggest that his bureaucracy should impose rules and regulations to violate the clear language of the First Amendment.

It's hard to imagine a more effective way to destroy a free society than to empower government to control the flow of information available to its citizens.  The crowd now in power in Washington seems to want this power – badly.  They will take it, unless they are stopped.  They can be stopped only by making sure that the president who appoints these bureaucrats honors, respects, and abides by the Constitution. ESR

Henry Lamb is the author of "The Rise of Global Governance,"  Chairman of Sovereignty International , and founder of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) and Freedom21, Inc.




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