And Now for Something Entirely Different…

In Washington, the lingua franca of policy discussions is "lobbyspeak," a form of communication that seeks, among other things, to conceal any hint of personal belief or interest.

The allure of lobbyspeak is that it allows the speaker to say things in a way that inoculates him from the risk that someone might denigrate his arguments as being just his own opinions, as contrasted, say, with positions derived from case law, or precedent, or that runaway favorite, the “public interest.”

Considered in the larger scheme of things, this is not the worst thing in the world.  Among the initiated, after all, it is easily spotted, and in some cases even appreciated — like a risqué double entendre — for its naughty cleverness.  But it can be, and often is, remarkably tiresome.

Which is why I write today to commend a speech given in Washington this week by the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, the people who host the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Lobbyspeak it was not.

As reported Tuesday in the headline of a Broadcasting & Cable story, "CEA president Gary Shapiro says media has ‘failed’ the country by poorly analyzing important stories," the speech excoriated the press for their insufficient attention to the substantive aspects of the recently enacted stimulus legislation, and our financial crisis generally.

In a town in which many, association executives particularly, are loathe to say anything that might upset anyone — the press and policymakers especially — Shapiro’s speech before The Media Institute was stunningly different, and frank, and courageous.

Where Are the First Amendment Champions?

First Amendment advocates must acknowledge a stark reality:  Too many players in the new generation of digital media either do not understand the First Amendment, or think the First Amendment is irrelevant to their piece of the digital action, or both.    
This is a dangerous situation because these digital gurus are the future of America’s media.  Are they eager to uphold constitutional principles like freedom of speech?  No.  Their interests revolve around technological innovation, software and hardware applications, content availability, distribution platforms, consumer acceptance, cost per unit … business considerations wherein technology and the marketplace trump policy concerns.  What does this bode for the future of free speech and free press as we know it?
Right now, the equipment manufacturers appear to be the standard bearers for the First Amendment rights of the new media.  Their Washington reps at the Consumer Electronics Association aren’t afraid to invoke free-speech arguments in policy circles.  But even within this industry, and certainly among the new media generally, we have yet to see emerge an entrepreneur or company head willing to lead the First Amendment fight in the way that William Paley championed freedom of speech in an earlier era.
We need a new generation of First Amendment champions.  They must, of necessity, be recruited widely from the ranks of the new media.  Before they can be champions, however, they must be educated about the First Amendment.  They must realize that the First Amendment will prove utterly and crucially relevant to all manner of digital media in coming years.  And they must be willing to embrace our cherished constitutional guarantee of free speech and free press as their unqualified ally.