Freedom of the Press Threatened Yet Again

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Bill of RightsIn April, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that a blogger posting information about a software pornography company wasn’t covered by the state’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from having to revel their sources, among other things. The court concluded the blogger’s postings were more in the style of a “letter to the editor” than a journalistic endeavor, despite the fact the blogger claimed her postings were part of research she was doing for a larger article.

The same article that provided me this information states that courts are increasingly unclear whether first amendment rights extend to new media, and bloggers in particular. (Source: NJ.com)

A coalition of media and media watchdogs recently appealed to the FCC to monitor hate speech and misinformation online. The most vociferous participant in this coalition seems to be the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), which claims that hate crimes against Latinos have gone up 40% in the last four years, and that not only hate speech, but misinformation has created a climate of prejudice and violence. NHMC encourages the FCC to explore the link between the offensive speech and hate crimes. (Source: Ars Technica)

Quoting the article:

As for the Internet, NHMC notes that at, at the time of the petition, inputting “I hate spics” into Google.com generated over 45,000 results. Of the first fifty, about 65 percent led to pages containing hateful messages found on chat boards, blogs, and social networking sites.”

I decided to do a little quick research. First off, as of this writing, Google turns up 23,900 hits for the phrase “I hate spics.” Typing in “I hate whites” turns up 3,000,000. I couldn’t find recent statistics on hate crimes, much less on hate crimes against Latinos specifically. Certainly, violence of any type (except, of course, in the case of self defense) is reprehensible and should not be tolerated.

Regarding misinformation, I thought I’d take some from the NHMC’s own website, nhmc.org.

“In the wake of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to sign SB 1070, state legislation that essentially
sanctions racial profiling as accepted police practice, the undersigned organizations join a growing
number of groups across the country in taking a stand against this radical law.” (Read the full article here.)

By now, we all know that SB 1070 doesn’t condone racial profiling, but can we all admit and accept that, when looking for illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, we just might be looking for … Mexicans? Will NHMC turn itself in as an example of online misinformation? I won’t hold my breath.

Truth is, NHMC is a well respected organization that supports, for the most part, an open Internet. Let’s just hope this push for the FCC to “look into” hate speech and misinformation doesn’t shoot NHMC and similar organizations in the foot. I’ve never seen anything on NHMC that could remotely be considered hate speech, but in a very real sense, what is hate speech to one, is freedom of speech to another.

Today, Fox News covered a story about the Federal Trade Commission opening discussions to “rescue” journalism. The FTC began this project in May 2009, but recently released a document outlining proposed measures to help “flailing” news organizations. Among the suggestions: the creation of a journalism branch of AmeriCorps; tax credits to news organizations for every journalist employed; etc. (Read the Fox News article here.)

In a nutshell, the FTC is proposing government support of journalism. To those of us wary of too much government, support inevitably leads to control; something we would do well to keep out of the field of journalism especially. One of the most important functions of the press is to question our government and to bring government improprieties to light. If the government funds the field of journalism, is it really a stretch of the imagination to see serious questioning fading?

We’ve all learned to ask of funded research, in the wake of the Global Warming “scandal,” cuit bono. Who profits?

In my mind, there’s no question, given the current political climate, who the “hate speech” people are: white conservatives. (Read my recent post on Sarah Silverman for an example.) Maybe NHMC truly believes anyone against illegal immigration is a racist, perpetrating violence. Then let them say so. They have that right; the right to be wrong.

We need to stop running to the government to settle all these issues. The only way for the government to “settle” anything is to control it. I’ll stop short of comparing liberals who favor this type of control as Nazis, because I’ve already voiced my objection to comparing anyone but Nazis to Nazis, and I’ve likewise mentioned Godwin’s Law. But I can’t fail to point out that a government in control of everything is exactly what sets the stage for cultural and societal takeovers like those of famous dictators everywhere.

The government should fear the people, not the other way around.

When we give the government the right to decide who is or isn’t a journalist, whether bloggers “deserve” the protections given the press and whether one point of view is valid while another is hateful, we give up our rights.

The very beauty of the Internet is that it allows everyday people to have a voice, to participate in the life-changing social discourse of our times. We must tolerate those with views that are wildly opposed to ours, even if they seem offensive. Let these conversations take place. Let bloggers thrive. Let the public decide what is valid journalism, not the courts. After all, the first amendment protects the press, but it also protects the freedom of speech for all individuals.

Sure, it’s conservative bloggers and journalists who have to worry now, but what happens when we’ve set up a huge government machine in control of the media and then conservatives take over (and we will)? What will happen to organizations like NHMC then?

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