Free Speech: It’s Catching On

This week, Oct. 18 to 24, is National Freedom of Speech Week (NFSW).  The Media Institute created NFSW in 2005 in cooperation with the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation as a chance for groups and individuals to celebrate the free speech and press that we enjoy thanks to the First Amendment, which protects most speech from government censorship.

The event has grown every year as more organizations have joined the celebration.  This year, however, we have seen a real spike in participation.  Much of this has come from colleges and universities, where professors of communications and law, in particular, see NFSW as an opportunity to host debates and discussions on freedom of speech.

We’re also seeing a big jump in persons writing about National Freedom of Speech Week, and free speech generally.  Much of this is happening in blogs and tweets, as opposed to traditional news stories, by all sorts of people with all sorts of interests who have at least two things in common: They take full advantage of their ability to speak freely, and they generally do so through digital means of communication.

And this is precisely what National Freedom of Speech Week is meant to celebrate.  We are all speakers, and we all have the ability to speak our minds without fear of government censorship.  Many of our large Partnering Organizations are conducting innovative programs, contests, and activities to raise awareness of free speech.  We salute them – and we will do our best to compile a list of their activities to document NFSW 2010.  

In the meantime, we tip our First Amendment hat to the bloggers and tweeters who are using their digital devices to create a new and exciting dialogue about freedom of speech and the First Amendment.  Their free speech is truly the language of America.

The National Freedom of Speech Week website is at   

A Time To Celebrate Free Speech

National Freedom of Speech Week – NFSW for short – is upon us.  This week of Oct. 20-26, 2008, marks the fourth year in which freedom of speech has been remembered with a commemorative  week of its own. 

When The Media Institute launched NFSW in 2005, we knew that the success of the week would depend on the participation of many organizations that would take the free-speech message to their constituents.  In that first year we partnered with the NAB Education Foundation and four other groups.

NABEF is still a stalwart, and those four groups have grown to many times that number.  Broadcasting, cable, newspapers, movies, electronics – virtually all of the major media platforms are represented this year in addition to educational institutions and a variety of other organizations.  That has always been the point – to make NFSW an open-ended collaboration rather than a proprietary event.

What I find exciting about NFSW’s evolution is the way in which a growing number of groups are taking the First Amendment message to young people and involving them in creative  and interactive ways. 

For example: NABEF is sponsoring a competition for college students, inviting them to produce public service announcements on free speech.  The Radio and Television News Directors Foundation is conducting a similar competition for high school and middle school students.  The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is sponsoring a poetry and songwriting contest on free-speech themes.  And the National Communication Association is encouraging the members of its college chapters to publicize and celebrate the week on their campuses.  (See the NFSW website,, for more details.)

It’s a well-worn cliche that today’s youth are the future of our country.  A fact far less widely touted is that they’re also the future of the First Amendment and our precious freedoms of speech and press.  But we need to do a better job of making our young people aware of these freedoms.  The activities above are good starts, and these groups are to be commended.
Ultimately the success of National Freedom of Speech Week will be secured when Americans in general and young people in particular demonstrate a heightened awareness of the importance of free speech and free press – and are willing to stand up for those freedoms even if means protecting speech that is unpopular or unpalatable.  

Even as we pause to celebrate freedom of speech this week, let’s be mindful that we still have a long way to go.