To clarify, do I really mean “end free speech in America”? NO!
Also, I don’t like sensational headlines. However, Google requires such sensationalism for any hope of being found on the internet.
Not An End To Free Speech But Responsibility For Honesty
The headline should really read, Is It Time To Regulate Some Types Of Speech In The U.S. And Bring Back The FCC’s Fairness Doctrine? (who would click on that boring headline?)
Before you get triggered remember that the U.S. does not currently allow free speech for its citizens.
A good deal of speech is currently regulated and restricted in the U.S. For example, one cannot:
- Defame individuals
- “Shout fire in a crowded theater”
- Possess or distribute child pornography (pictures are covered under free speech)
- Incite a riot
- Threaten the President of the United States
- Say words that are “personally abusive”
- Use words and images which are trademarked or copyrighted
- Disseminate commercial speech which is found to be false advertising
- Wear the American flag
There are many other types of regulated and restricted speech.
Does America Really Need More Restrictions On Free Speech?
With a good deal of regulation on speech already in place, what else am I suggesting should be restricted? I’m not suggesting anything new. In fact, I’m suggesting something old. We need to regulate information that we know is false when it is presented as true in the public space.
The Fairness Doctrine And Free Speech
This is an old idea. In 1949, it was the law of the land. Post World War II, news in the United States was regulated under the fairness doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission. The fairness doctrine states, in part, that news must be presented, “in a manner that is honest, equitable, and balanced.”
The fairness doctrine was eliminated in 1987 under the Reagan administration.
Eliminating the fairness doctrine is significant, perhaps the primary factor causing the current Civil War level of polarization in the United States.
Do we need the fairness doctrine to restrict free speech even more? Yes, because every society needs a reference place to obtain accurate information. Accurate information is the foundation that binds society together and allows it to function. In a Democracy this allows for informed and civil discourse.
Cultures with the most restrictive speech, such as China, tend to have the most stable societies. It’s a balance between total free speech, even if it causes death and destruction, and not being able to say some things in order to maintain civil harmony and cohesion. How much civil unrest are we willing to tolerate for how much free speech?
The Good Old Days Of Less Free Speech
Prior to 1987 Americans knew they could tune into a news channel or news radio station, or read a newspaper or news magazine, and receive accurate information. In fact, “the most trusted man in America” in the 1970s was CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite. During this time different perspectives and analyses of the facts flourished and sparked lively debates. The key is that in this era opposing positions were based on verifiable information.
During the Watergate Scandal, for example, President Nixon was suspected of illegal acts but these accusations were not broadcast until sufficient evidence was presented to make a case. Each side presented evidence in the public space. No news outlet lied and if they did they faced legal consequences. Debate followed, people formed an opinion based on the facts and the logic of argument.
If the fairness doctrine were in place today, in the case of the current election fraud issue, news organizations claiming widespread fraud would have to produce evidence before it could be broadcast.
In other words, if the fairness doctrine were applied today, there would be no discussion of election fraud because there is no evidence. But without the fairness doctrine in place, any lie can be presented as factual. Evidence is not required to support news reports.
The elimination of the fairness doctrine made it legal for news outlets to lie without consequence. In 2021 various news outlets made claims of election fraud with no evidence to support it. From this, some people have been pursued to riot resulting in a number of deaths. Shouldn’t broadcasting organizations be held accountable?
Should Broadcasters Have The Right To Lie?
The questions Americans need to ask are:
- Does an ‘authoritative’ source have the ‘right’ to present false information as true?
- If so, is it worth the consequences?
The answer is straight forward since we know the United States functioned quite well when the fairness doctrine restricted such speech.
Some broadcasters will continue to relay false information for two reasons:
Fox News, Breitbart, and other ‘news’ organizations that spread fabricated information will lobby to remain in business to maintain their large following and profits.
- Adversarial Governments.
Governments hostile to the U.S. such as Russia and Iran have a powerful tool to divide the U.S. populace with the aim of collapsing the economy and permanently crippling the American system. These countries will disseminate false information to keep this powerful tool active.
Clearly, governments hostile to the U.S. exploit this situation.
So here’s to Free Speech.