I was listening to the radio as I was waking up this morning, and I have this hazy recollection that there was a story about a lawsuit over cigarette advertising. Sure enough, turns out that the second and third biggesttobacco companies are suing over the new restrictions on advertising imposed by the new law giving the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco.
I’d been thinking about doing a post on the free speech clause of the First Amendment anyway, and this seems an appropriate topic to start that off.
As you are all well aware, there are limits to freedom of speech: the classic “you can’t yell ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater” idea is the obvious one, but there are lots of others. One of my favorites, though, isn’t properly a limitation on freedom of speech: the infamousHays Office (officially the Motion Picture Production Code) which made sure that Maureen Sullivan didn’t show her belly button in Tarzan movies, among many other crimes against nature. The Hays Office was only possible because the Supremes had initially ruled in 1915 that the First Amendment didn’t apply to movies (later reversed in a series of rulings in the 1950s and 60s), and because the film industry agreed voluntarily to submit to it.
But I digress. We talked a while back about the issue of election reform, and how to prevent money from having such a corrosive effect on public policy. But that runs smack into the first amendment.
So here’s the question for the day: how far should the government be able to infringe on freedom of speech? I have trouble with this one, because I see myself as a liberal in both the classical and the contemporary senses. I’m big into civil rights and avoiding overbearing government involvement in my life, so I’m not a big fan of censorship (slippery slopes and all that). On the other hand, I believe that the government has a responsibility to protect citizens–even from themselves in some cases.
In the tobacco case, in spite of my disgust for all things tobacco, I find myself leaning more toward supporting the tobacco companies. (I doubt they’ll want my support, though, because I feel that cigarettes in their current form ought to be banned. At the very least, the adulterations the tobacco companies have done to make their product more addicting should be banned. If the product is really so dangerous that it needs a warning label covering half the product, why the hell is the product on the market? But that’s another issue…) As far as the First Amendment issue is concerned, I think the restrictions on advertising are extreme. But I’m not set on that idea–if somebody has a different take, feel free to persuade me.
As for campaign finance reform, my feeling is there’s no way to avoid having money influence elections without damaging the first amendment more than I’m willing to accept. What do you all think?
And for the record, there’s a very big part of me that would be just fine with censorship of Joke Line, under the aegis of the “protecting the citizenry” idea.