Freedom of Expression

by Don Boudreaux on August 4, 2008

in Regulation

This letter of mine is published in today’s New York Times:

Re “Freedom to Offend” (letter, Aug. 1):

Disagreeing with your
claim that the Federal Communications Commission ruling in the Janet
Jackson Super Bowl case was an arbitrary assault on freedom of
expression, a letter writer mysteriously finds comfort in the fact that
government policy is that “our public airwaves are to be used in the
interest, convenience and necessity of the public.” How does this
regrettable fact justify government oversight of private expression?

make no mistake: this fact is regrettable. To see why, imagine if all
newsprint and ink were owned by the government and leased to newspapers
and magazines. Imagine further that official policy regarding the print
media was governed not by the First Amendment but by the proclamation
that “our newsprint and ink are to be used in the interest, convenience
and necessity of the public.”

Finally, suppose that these
glorious words were enforced by the Federal Print Commission. Would
anyone pretend that America then would have a truly free press?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Fairfax, Va., Aug.1, 2008

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SteveO August 4, 2008 at 9:05 am

Don, you just didn't take into account the horrifying power of a breast on national TV. This may sound like a joke, but it's not. When there are little irrational fears whose power to move people is far out of proportion- like a mouse frightening an elephant- then skilled "idea merchants" will craftily weild those fears to sway large swaths of the public to give up freedom to chase away the largely harmless mice.

Martin Brock August 4, 2008 at 9:56 am

The Feds didn't fine her enough. I wanted to see both of her tits.

Keith August 4, 2008 at 10:16 am

Quote from SteveO: "Don, you just didn't take into account the horrifying power of a breast on national TV."

Yes, a terrible power that is easily neutered with a little thing called the off button.

Rudy August 4, 2008 at 11:27 am

How did Janet get past the metal detector with the size of that loop through her nipple? Where was government on that issue?


OregonGuy August 4, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Having been employed by a radio station, or stations, over the past thirty years, I have long known and accepted that, as an electronic news media I have no freedom of speech.

All broadcasters are required to go through a re-licensing process every eight years. This alone has a chilling effect on what television or radio is willing to do. You do not want to stir up the loonies on either side.

So? You get a lot of puff journalism. The first rule? Defend your license.


Laffe R. Curve August 4, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Superb letter.

Max M August 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm

State owned media… mmm

" Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, cinema, and other mass media are state or social property and can never be private property. This assures their use at exclusive service of the working people and in the interests of society. "

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution..

SteveO August 4, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Keith: I hope you understand that I agree with you.

This is one of the problems that emerges from the micro-behavior of thinking in terms of what is "right" and "wrong" (in some universal sense). I've been on an exercise this year to eliminate the word "should" from my vocabulary.

When people become convinced- nay, never consider otherwise- that there is an absolute right and wrong, then it becomes incumbent on everyone to enforce every little petty belief that we think is right or wrong. "We" must enforce it far and wide. Homogenity must prevail for the universal moralists. There exists in their minds no ability to be individually right.

vidyohs August 4, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Hey Spencer,

Is the New York Times mainstream and big city enough for you?

save_the_rustbelt August 5, 2008 at 9:04 am

Certainly the networks have a right to private expression and we should defend that right.


When networks contract for public airways they agree to rules and guidelines. No one forces them to do so. So they should comply.

Otherwise, there is always cable.

The cable networks are producing much better original programming anyway. How many autopsies can we watch?

SteveO August 5, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Shave with a Rusty Belt:

Why does the state "own" the right to switch modulate an electromagnetic pulse through a given length of wire at a specific frequency and power? (therefore allowing them to lease it to station owners who must then agree to any specific terms)

This is the absolute definition of a state controlled rent, which they offer out to rent-seekers.

vidyohs August 5, 2008 at 8:02 pm

Am I the only one tht began having trouble accessing the Cafe Hayek website last week.

I went two or three days with being told that it could not be opened, then it was fixed and now this morning I am back to the not available screen again.

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