Saturday, July 7, 2007
In his July 4 op-ed column, "Unfree Speech," Robert J. Samuelson made a solid case that the First Amendment's meaning and reach have been limited. But he could have made it even stronger. The fact is, every American who gets news from government-regulated radio or television is receiving information from a broadcasting company that is subject to commercial (that is, advertiser) pressure, just as newspapers are.
Broadcasters are also open to government pressure through the Federal Communications Commission, whose members are appointed by the president. Newspapers are specifically protected against government interference by the granite wall known as the First Amendment.
When the present form of broadcast regulation was set up early in the previous century, nobody understood what powerful instruments of news and information would evolve from the primitive radio stations of that day. Now that we do understand it, we can repair that historic mistake. We can extend the clear, stirring language of the First Amendment to equal protection for freedom of the electronic media. The problem of allocating broadcast licenses does not have to cost the American people the benefit of free broadcasting.