Our Back PagesSeven decades in defense of free speech 7/04/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Since this magazine's inception more than 70 years ago,
B&C has been a steadfast defender of the First Amendment. Current events in Washington prove that it will always be necessary to keep up the fight. As the nation celebrates its freedoms this July week, we've excerpted a few of literally hundreds of our editorials that have defended the First Amendment for television and radio:
Feb. 1, 1934
"Broadcasting is an industry without a parallel insofar as government relationship with business is concerned. Although privately operated, it is governmentally regulated. Therefore it lends itself admirably as ammunition for political oratory. It also is excellent material for reformers who otherwise would be crusading against cigarettes or the use of lipstick. It is so close to the masses of the people that the agitator can always get some kind of audience."
May 12, 1952
"It is hard to fathom what motivates our legislators in their zeal to curb the freedoms they are sworn to keep inviolate. The movies were the first on freedom's firing line. ... Radio as a licensed medium has navigated in hot water almost from the day it became an influence in molding public opinion. Now television, with its king-making power, accentuates the Congressional drive to get into the act. Our zealous legislators seem to forget that Hitler and Mussolini burned books. They sequestered radio stations and newspapers. 'Free speech' was punishable by death."
Jan. 4, 1960
"The greatest problem, however, resides, in the legislative and regulatory area. In a presidential election year almost anything can happen. The politicians have found a newsworthy issue in television and radio morality and ethics. It is a horse they can ride in full stride until the November elections. Extraordinary statesmanship and vigilance must be exerted by all in broadcasting, advertising and marketing to avoid a stampede toward legislation that could cripple our free institutions."
May 15, 1961
"This to us is the real reason for alarm in Newton Minow's speech. He demanded improvement in programs and in the next breath threatened revocation of licenses as the penalty for failure to abide by that demand. In his view that procedure is legal. In our view it is not. At some point soon an attack must be mounted against Mr. Minow's interpretation of the First Amendment and the anti-censorship provision of the Communication Act."
June 16, 1969
"What broadcasters have most to fear is that politicians will learn to use this court decision [upholding the fairness doctrine] as a weapon in their personal causes. Does a senator think there is too much sex and violence on television? Does a congressman think himself wronged by a documentary on hunger in his district? The first reaction will be to call up the FCC for an investigation. Now the FCC will have less excuse to resist political demands."
March 28, 1977
"An appellate court has unequivocally told the FCC to keep its hands off programming. … Nonconformist, noncommercial WBAI-FM New York was rebuked by the FCC for playing a George Carlin comedy record that no commercial broadcasters would think of playing. ... It is not a dirty record that the court endorsed, but a basic principle of editorial independence. It is worth repeating a phrase from the court's opinion: 'To whatever extent we err or the commission errs in balancing its duties, it must be in favor of preserving the values of free expression and freedom from government interference in matters of taste.'"
Aug. 10, 1987
"Mark Aug. 4, 1987, as the day the FCC proclaimed the emancipation of the Fifth Estate. The decision adopted that day to strike down the misnamed fairness doctrine was also an eloquent declaration that the electronic and print media are entitled to equal First Amendment protection rights. ... The reaction of fairness doctrinaires on Capitol Hill to the FCC's reasoned and masterfully argued [decision] was pure bile. If no vow were made to burn FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick at the stake, it was through oversight."
Oct. 27, 1997
"The so-called Gore Commission is stacked to recommend free airtime for candidates and the other programming goodies Gore wants. After months of searching, the White House assembled a fine, politically correct group representing every voting demographic. But it was unable to locate a single First Amendment advocate likely to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the government's telling broadcasters what to air may be an abridgement of their free-speech rights."
April 4, 2004
"By not speaking up, the media put their future in jeopardy. In fact, those guilty of offensive behavior are not the network gatekeepers—every now-notorious act of 'indecency' in the news was live, unplanned, a mistake—but the demagogic grandstanders in Washington. There's nothing offensive about going on the offensive for the First Amendment. But there is something truly obscene about remaining silent."