Media

"The press should have no rights that the average citizen does not have."

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On Wednesday, November 5, I'll be speaking at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum as part of Spiked Online's Free Speech Now! conference. Go here for details.

Spiked's Tim Black interviewed me last week and the Q&A just went up, under the title "The Best Answer to Bad Speech? More Speech." Here are some snippets that help explain why I'm "nearly utopian" about free expression:

"People have a right to free expression, and they have a right to free speech and free assembly. And that is what undergirds our press freedom. The press should have no rights that the average citizen does not have….

 I think what unites the right and the left in stupidity and error when it comes to this broad-based understanding of the media, which is really the sum of the press as well as the entertainment industries, is that they're wedded to an old model, which grew out of the Frankfurt school, whereby the audience is assumed not really to have a mind of its own. It just kind of gets pushed along by whatever it reads and sees. And this argument is wrong, because everyone who watches a TV programme, or goes to a play, is an active participant, a person who processes information, who makes decisions every second about what things mean….

Look at Reason Foundation, which is the non-profit which publishes Reason. You take a non-profit that doesn't have a lot of money, that doesn't have a lot of power or insider connection. And we have come from publishing a monthly magazine and occasionally writing op-eds in newspapers to now, 20 years later, when we have a complete media operation, where we're online everyday and we reach over four million people every month. We have the ability to reach out and engage an audience as well as the people we disagree with that was virtually unthinkable when I joined the staff in 1993. And that's why I'm nearly utopian. And every day, there are new sites of information and expression that were simply not able to exist in any meaningful way a quarter of a century ago."

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Dalmia says utopians are totalitarians.

    Discuss amongst yourselves.

    1. I would say yes,it would mean every one does and says the same thing.And drinks the same beer,most likely Bud.

    2. Where? I would say that many people who claim to be utopians are willing to employ any means to achieve their ends, and ever more fine-tuning means ever more state control. However, if your utopia is not a determinate state (“everyone will be perfectly healthy and happy”) but a set of conditions that describe a large enough set of states you don’t have to be a totalitarianism.

    3. I could see why she might say that. The whole idea of Utopia is pretty vaguely defined in my mind. But what libertarians want really doesn’t seem to fit into any definition of utopia I can think of (joking about “libertopia” aside). Randians maybe since it’s a more prescriptive philosophy.

      1. It seems to me that none of the people responding to this point have ever actually read Thomas More’s “Utopia”. You should (it’s available free on the Gutenberg site http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2130). It’s really a very nasty place, and most definitely totalitarian; I certainly wouldn’t want to live there.

        Of course, that’s probably not what most people have in mind when they use a word like “utopian”; I’m sure Nick Gillespie doesn’t. I guess it’s sort of like the common meme that Robin Hood “stole from the rich” (which he didn’t; he “stole” from the tax collector, i.e. the state, to return those taxes to the people). People really should understand what they’re talking about when they use a term, but I suppose that’s asking too much.

  2. “The press should have no rights that the average citizen does not have.”

    Add to that:
    “The press police should have no rights that the average citizen does not have.”

    And you’ll be 90% of the way to a better world.

  3. The rights of the “press” – as in the New York Times – derive from the rights of all people to freely express their ideas. I’m not sure how everyone forgot this since it is pretty succinctly enshrined in our nation’s founding documents. But there ya go.

    I suppose most everyone has also forgotten that all of the powers of the government derive from the authority granted it by the citizens and therefore cannot exceed the powers that the people would otherwise have themselves. As Brett L succinctly pointed out, we left that idea in our rear-view mirror a long, long time ago.

    1. I suppose most everyone has also forgotten that all of the powers of the government derive from the authority granted it by the citizens

      That idea has long perished. Now people believe that the government derives its authority from its power. That’s like saying a man who beats his wife has the authority to rape her because he has power over her.

      1. Now people believe that the government derives its authority from its power.

        Well, honestly, that has always been the more accurate view (as any citizen who declines to grant that authority to government will discover). It’s just that people used to have more power relative to the government, so government had to act more like its power was granted to it by citizens.

      2. No, he derives his authority to rape her from his power to keep her from assaulting the neighbors.

    2. The perverse thing is how people seem to have come to believe that “the press” refers to professional journalists rather than to mass media generally. Seems obvious that freedom of the press means that anyone or any organization can publish anything any time through any medium of mass communication.

      I think that things like journalist shield laws are a good thing to have, but they have nothing to do with the first amendment.

      1. Journalist “shield laws” allow reporters to make stuff up and then hide behind “protecting their sources”.
        If it is not opinion, which is always protected, it is put out as fact and should be able to be publicly supported as the truth or it is libel, something else “journalists” shouldn’t enjoy special protection from.

  4. I get better comment,humor and insight from the posters here then the MSM(Tony and his ilk excluded)

    1. I don’t think any of us can honestly say that Tony hasn’t been a source of humor at one point or another.

      1. Tony is a source of entertainment…mostly due to his not being the dominant voice, as would be the case in most other comment sections.

      2. sorry ,when I see his post I want to strangle him.I know too many that think like him.The hate property rights,and and are willing to take them from business.Just pay your taxes and fees and do what we tell you,how we tell you and serve who we tell you.Unless we need your property.

        1. He doesn’t hate property rights. He likes his property rights just fine. It’s your property rights that he hates.

          1. Yeah I know that too well

          2. And he hates poor people.

            That was actually a refreshing bit of honesty from an internet liberal. He likes welfare because he doesn’t want to have to look at dirty poor people.

  5. the audience is assumed not really to have a mind of its own. It just kind of gets pushed along by whatever it reads and sees

    Those teabaggers are programmed by FOX News!

    1. That’s true. I read it on HuffPo.

  6. And that is what undergirds our press freedom. The press should have no rights that the average citizen does not have….

    “The press,” as stated in the First Amendment, refers to an action, not a class of people. The Freedom of the Press reinforces the right of the people to freely disseminate ideas in whatever contemporary mass media exists with the people holding the right. With the advent of the Web, the exercise of the right has never been easier.

    1. That’s an interesting question. What was the common meaning of the phrase “the press” in 1789? It’s meant a group of people (admittedly somewhat ill-defined) as long as I can remember. Is that the result of a change in meaning over the first 200 years of the republic, or has it always meant that?

      1. See Branzburg v. Hayes

        Freedom of the press is a “fundamental personal right” which

        “is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. . . . The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”

      2. It actually meant a printing press, and “of” in “freedom of the press” was understood as “to”.

      3. In the context of the rest of the first amendment, I think it is pretty clear that “press” is the means of communication, not the institution. I think it is bad that “speech” has been stretched out to cover so much of free expression. The way I interpret it, “speech” means speech, i.e. people opening their mouths and saying things. “Press” should be understood to refer to all other means of communication.

  7. I didn’t know you pronounced “program” “programme,” Nick. Otherwise, nice interview. Keep the First the first, forevah!

    1. Did you know that the “first” wasn’t originally proposed as the first, but the third?
      link: http://www.boldtruth.com/

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