Should everyone have equal rights to free speech or should those with more money have more rights to free speech as the Supreme Court seems to have decided?
What else should be considered when deciding these issues?
In the Supreme Court ruling for Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 the Supreme Court essentially decided that when it comes to political speech that money equals speech. This means that rich corporations or people can spend unlimited amounts of money one way or another to get their political point of view across to the public but the majority of the public can’t spend much if any money to have an influence on this process. This means that the right of those with large amounts of money to lie to the public and go unchallenged by the truth is more important than the right to provide both points of view unless the other point of view is also supported by another rich person who is willing to spend an enormous amount of money.
This ruling combined with the fact that the biggest media companies have gone through a massive consolidation process over the last thirty years has enabled a small number of corporations to dominate the messages that are delivered to a large segment of the public. The majority of the public doesn’t have nearly as much rights to free speech that gets through to a large segment of the other members of the public; instead they can talk to a few family members and friends and get their ideas across to a much smaller amount of people many of whom may be heavily influenced by the Mass Media and the ideology they promote with little or no opposition on a large scale. This has enabled the multi-national corporations that control the Mass Media to use it for indoctrination purposes and deprive the public about many of the most important facts they need to make decisions about any given subject.
The public has little or no direct control over what the Major media outlets broadcasts. They often claim that competition will provide what the public wants since they will have the choice to watch which ever shows they like but if the broadcasters don’t show the public what they want to see the choice is either watch what they do show or watch nothing. The Mass media doesn’t much if any educational material that is of any value about many of the most important subjects like violence prevention, the activities that lead up to many wars, environmental destruction and many other things. Instead they often broadcast information that often does more to confuse the public than to educate them about these issues. In most cases they appeal to the emotions of many members of the public; if they do provide experts to discuss any given issue these experts are chosen by the Mass Media with little peer review. In many cases the Mass Media may choose experts that suit their own purposes if they have an agenda which may or may not be easy to see. One of the most blatant cases is the way they treat crime. They often cater to the fear of the public and present this in a very dramatic manner which incites emotions from the public. They rarely ever allow many of the most credible researchers of this subject to let the public know what they have found out about the causes of crime that could be prevented including the fact that child abuse at a very early age is a major contributing cause to long term violence and other crimes. If the public knew this then they could do more to initiate more child abuse programs and dramatically reduce crime; instead they act out of anger and spend much more money building prisons which has had some impact on the short term reduction in crime but the majority of the reduction in the long term is from reduced child abuse. This is also true about many other scientific subjects including archaeology, astronomy and many other fields. If you look in the library for good book on any given subject you will almost certainly find material that is much better than what the Mass Media is presenting to the public.
The Fairness Doctrine once provided a better system although it almost certainly wasn’t implemented in the most effective way since the public wasn’t well informed about it and there probably were some doubts about whether it was being implemented properly; but instead of fixing the problem they eliminated it giving the owners of the Mass Media an opportunity to present propaganda with no checks and balances. In the late sixties and the early seventies this was part of what enabled the government to require the tobacco companies to withdraw advertisements from TV since they wanted to avoid putting warnings on their advertisements about the dangers of smoking and they didn’t want the public to hear the Public Service Announcements warning them about how bad tobacco was for their health. The fairness doctrine was, or should have been, used to ensure that the public would hear about the dangers the tobacco companies didn’t want to tell them about. This probably wasn’t handled as well as it could have and in this case it led to the withdrawal of TV ads and the tobacco companies used other means to advertise where they wouldn’t have to comply with the Fairness Doctrine or provide the warnings for a couple more decades. This wasn’t perfect but in the eighties the Reagan administration eliminated even this and at the same time the media was consolidating leading to a steadily decline in the quality of what is being presented to the public on TV and from other media outlets.
Even when the Fairness Doctrine was in place those that spoke out in favor of peace or for the rights of the lower classes never received nearly as much attention as those who spoke in favor of war and capitalism. In fact in many cases it has become a crime to speak out in favor of peace and against Mass Murder which is essentially what war is. The assumption has always been that we have to fight against an enemy which is evil so those who spoke in favor of peace are often accused of appeasing the enemy; however in many cases they are also telling the truth and after the panic has died down the evidence has often supported this. Not only are there many cases where an incident was faked or exaggerated like the Gulf of Tonkin incident or the Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but there have also been many incidents where our own government has instigated the violence that preceded the violent conflict. This includes coups in many countries that were carried out by the CIA or other organizations including the support for Ngo Dinh Diem in Viet Nam, the support for the Shah in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Batista in Cuba and many others. If people didn’t have to rebel against these tyrants that had power with the support of the USA they wouldn’t have led to revolutions that installed tyrants opposed to US policy. There is something seriously wrong when the people that are opposed to Mass murder are labeled criminals while those that carry it out are hyped up and considered heroes.
This same problem happens when people speak out for the best interests of the lower and middle classes in some cases by advocating programs that help educate the poor or protect the environment. When a program is designed to help the poor it is often labeled socialist entitlement and demonized as inefficient. In many cases there are some inefficiencies in these programs but the way to address them is to review them and fix them not demonize and eliminate them assuming they serve a worthwhile goal. There is an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that if the poor and lower classe4s are better educated they will be more productive and less likely to participate in crime or other counterproductive behavior. Money spent on education could dramatically reduce the amount necessary for prisons and increase the amount they pay in taxes if they’re more productive. It will also enable them to stand up for their own rights better which may be what some people don’t want. Money spent to protect the environment will be just as good an investment since we are dependent on the environment for our survival it will have to be addressed eventually. If the biggest businesses continue to obtain high profits by ignoring the damage they do to the environment every one will eventually have to pay the price. In both these issues and many more the best interests of the majority of the public is being ignored by the Mass Media in favor of propaganda that enables the multi-national corporations to increase their profits in the short term at the expense of the long term security of our society. The current system is already collapsing at least partially now; It may be possible to create some short term fixes that will enable them to maintain the current capitalist system but it will lead to more damage in the long run. The most effective way to address the issues should involve allowing people from different points of view including those that are better educated and truly have the best interest of the public in mind have a chance to get their views across.
Coverage about corporate or military corruption tends to be much rarer or it doesn’t happen until the amount of money lost as a result is much higher. When this happens it is much less likely to result in cuts to programs that benefit the corporations and military or if they do they often replace them just as quickly with other programs that benefit the corporations and military. This is usually done in confusing ways that the public doesn’t understand. Since corruption in these types of programs is often covered up they tend to be much worse and the damage is usually harder to detect; when the inefficiency is exposed it is often blamed on a confusing bureaucracy. The most powerful; institutions are often much more complicated than they need to be and they conduct an excessive amount of their activities out of the public eye. Even if the information is available to the public it is often in places where the public doesn’t know to look unless they are familiar with the bureaucracy. There is far more money being wasted on what is often called corporate welfare than the more widely known welfare for the poor but it is done in a more confusing way so that it is easier to demonize the poor when they need someone to blame for problems and the current media system often does this. Regular welfare is a problem that needs to be addressed; however that shouldn’t mean just abolishing it; instead they should expose the details and fix it. In many cases the corruption often labeled as corporate welfare isn’t doing the majority of the public much if any good at all; instead it is solely designed to benefit those with the political connections alone. In many cases these programs really should be abolished; but without the resources available to investigate on it and report it this rarely happens. In the cases where there is a benefit for the public then it should be explained to the public but those that understand it and want to do so rarely ever get the chance to speak through the Mass Media. In some cases where tax money goes to something that does have a legitimate benefit for the public it may not actually get to the public unless they pay for it a second time. Examples of this may include when there is research done with the help of a government grant to a private institution and the result of that research produces a drug that is patented and the private company gets the patent and the public still has to pay extra for the brand drug due to the fact that the patent effectively gives one company a monopoly on that drug for a significant period of time. In other cases the research may result in a book that is copy written and controlled by the private corporation as well. In both these examples the public foots the bill for the research but the benefit from it is controlled by the holder of the patent or copyright.
In the late nineties there were some micro broadcaster that attempted to respond to the low quality of the material coming from the Mass Media but they were stopped from having even small radio outlets by the government which wound up defending the rights of the few major companies to control the airwaves without requiring them to do any thing to address the concerns of the public. This essentially means that the government was using regulations to protect the oligopoly currently in place. Which means that “Big Government” was used to protect “Big Media” when they need it; but they weren’t there to protect the people that wanted small media or equal right to get their point across to the public. When the first amendment was added to the constitution it was done so to prevent the government from controlling the media and eliminating accountability to the government; now the corporations have control over the media and excessive control over the political process. This means that the original intent of the first amendment has been violated by the current process. The right to free speech on a large scale is reserved for only those with control over the media or massive amount of cash and in some cases if people with enough cash challenge the current system they may not even be able to buy advertising if they don’t meet standards decided by the Mass Media.
In most cases this hasn’t involved infringing on the rights of people to speak in their own home as some of the most extreme tyrants have done in the past but there may be some indication that in a few rare exceptions even this has been infringed on; or at least there have been some accusations of these incidents when it comes to challenging the government. It is difficult to know whether many or any of these claims have much if any legitimacy since there hasn’t been a rational sincere investigation into them in most cases. This include incidents where the government has spied on the peace protesters in the late sixties and early seventies against the Viet Nam war and again in the eighties against the wars in Central America, including the support of the Contras during the Iran Contra controversy. Some admissions have been made by the government that they were spying on the protesters and there is some indication that some efforts were made to intimidate them. More extreme claims have been made about the investigation into the assassination of JFK. The evidence of this seems weaker to most people and if there is some legitimate claims to them then there has been a successful attempt to confuse the issue and prevent people from knowing what happened. Even without what some people would consider solid evidence of intimidation there is evidence of incompetence and a cover up of something in the Warren Report and the House Select Committee on Assassinations report which contradicts it in many ways. In fact neither report makes complete sense; so at best this is evidence of incompetence.
Never the less the bigger problem is what is reported to the masses and whether or not it is an accurate way of addressing the most important facts that people need to make the most important decisions to effect many of the most important issues. First of all it would help to keep in mind that if everyone speaks up at once then no one will hear any one so every one will be censored which often seems to be what is happening on many of the talk shows that have people talking so fast at the same time. The assumption that we should be opposed to censorship all the time isn’t quite so simple as a quick declaration then letting the same people cover the same material over and over again. Under the current circumstances those who are doing this are effectively censoring every one else then when people complain they accuse them of trying to infringe on their right to speak. This effectively means that one segment of society can drown out the rest of society.
Should every one have equal rights to free speech? It certainly sounds like a good idea and to some degree it should be implemented but most people don’t have the education necessary to make many of the most important decisions. This doesn’t mean that the masses shouldn’t have a chance to get their points of view across though; typically in the past when the elite have claimed to stick up for the rights of the masses they have rarely ever done as well as they have claimed. Ideally there would be some effort to hear the points of views of the masses, perhaps mostly at the local level, so that they can participate in the system and also an good effort to give the most educated people a chance to speak.
Should every one have a right to choose who they will listen to? In many cases some of the people that are addressing the public don’t seem very credible to many people and many of us don’t want to listen to those that aren’t credible. In some cases including my own the people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have very little credibility and if there are more credible people that have a better track record of making sensible arguments I would rather listen to them. This doesn’t mean that it is the best interest of everyone to listen only to those they agree with since this would eliminate some of the most important scrutiny we need. Those who agree with us often think the same way and it helps to consider the point of views of others that might, in some cases, be better at catching our mistakes. Also if people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are getting a lot of attention it will be important for someone to fact check them and correct their mistakes so that they don’t develop a strong cult following that can le4ad to some very bad decisions.
Should academics have more rights to speak about the subject they specialize in? If so should they be subject to peer review and should they be required to show the work behind their conclusions? Ideally we would have academics that have done the research necessary to find out more about many of the most important subjects. If we need to make decisions about any given subject including the environment wouldn’t it be more reasonable to listen to research that isn’t controlled by the oil companies? If there is going to be a sincere and successful democracy we need to make decisions based on the most accurate facts possible without corrupting influences. Ideally we would have many different academics speak about their research and show the work that led to their conclusions. The Experts wouldn’t be able to cover everything in front of a large audience but they could provide and online set of references for the public to review. Ideally they would also find some time to answer the questions that the public may have about the subject they specialize in. If we’re going to give them more than the average time to speak to a large audience they should be willing to show the work behind their claims, respond to questions and the public should have the opportunity to review it at their own leisure.
Many Media reform researchers and historians that have looked at history from the points of view of the lower and middle classes including Howard Zinn, Robert McChesney founder of Free Press and many others have already dome a lot to address this problem but the majority of the public hasn’t had much if any chance to listen to them; in some cases the most credible sources have been demonized as part of an effort to preserve the status quo.
this was first posted on tripod on 05/13/10
To read Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court ruling see the following:
For the Free Press web site run by Robert McChesney, John Nichols and Josh Silver see the following:
For Howard Zinn’s web page see the following:
Tobacco ban on TV advertisements
For a sample of articles about rejected ads see the following:
For additional comments on this subject see the following:
For the full HTML version of this blog with table of context see: