Defense of free speech


At the Commerce Committee hearing on media violence, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe submitted his written testimony for the record and then ignored the practice of reading excepts as his opening statement, saying he'd rather speak from his heart than as a representative of media organizations who have him on retainer. In the sometimes clashing goals of protecting children and protecting free speech, he said "We don't have to choose. In the long run, in is not in their interest to sacrifice free speech on the altar of protecting children."

He said emphasis on parental controls was entirely the way to go. He said that the Supreme Court has backed the notion that although such controls are not perfect, they are far less intrusive than trying to determine a way to legislate content in this area. He said it's a much more difficult area than obscenity because one form of violence or another is pervasive in artistic content of all kinds going back thousands of years. He also argued that economic band aids such as a la carte are not an option because of unwanted and unintended side effects (such as destroying the business model that makes carriage of some sparsely viewed quality content channels possible).

Under questioning, he noted three ways free speech lawyers would shoot down regulations in court. He said every attempt to define violence would be susceptible to attack in the courts on any number of arguments. Exceptions (such as "Saving Private Ryan" getting an f-word exception), exemptions, overbroad interpretations, internal inconsistencies would soon produce a body of regulation like a Swiss cheese. He said it would be particularly difficult for a collective body such as Congress to come up with one, and if the FCC thinks it can be done, then it should do it.

SmartMedia observation: And it's on that last point that we really missed the testimony of Kevin Martin. Perhaps the FCC will go back to this task, or the maybe the Committee will so task it. Stay tuned.