Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sample Questions for Communication Rights and Law

1. Alexander Meiklejohn argues that political speech is what maintains an open and free society, but we as a “people” must be determined to preserve not only the right to speak, but also actively engage in all that the “speaking” forum demands. In Meiklejohn’s words:

But a more important point—which we Americans do not so readily recognize—is that of the intellectual difficulties which are inherent in the making and administering of this political program of ours. We do not see how baffling, even to the point of desperation, is the task of using our minds, to which we are summoned by our plan of government. That plan is not intellectually simple. Its victories are chiefly won, not by the carnage of battle, but by sweat and agony of the mind” (10).

If there is general agreement that people pursue pleasure instead of political debate (and the two may not be separate spheres, such as with The Daily Show), where do we find the “agony of the mind” in our society today?

2.Martin Redish argues that freedom of speech has both an intrinsic value: helping individuals engage the process of self-actualization, and an instrumental value: freedom of speech produces marketplaces for ideas, political dialogue, and human creation and innovation. Ultimately, under Redish’s theory any form of pornographic or violent speech must be afforded First Amendment protection because this speech may help an individual in the process of “self-actualization.” Do you agree with what seems like an absolutist individualistic stance?

3. In chapter three of our text there are two landmark court decisions establishing precedence around “danger” in relation to political speech: Schenck v. U.S. and Brandenburg v. Ohio. The Schenck case establishes the “clear-and-present danger” test, which requires that one “must wait until a real danger can be identified” (Tedford and Herbeck 50) before punishing speech. Brandenburg v. Ohio requires that speech actually incite “illegal conduct which is both imminent and likely to occur” (50). In other words there must be direct links between the words spoken and the “harm” produced. What do we do with speech that is not directly linked to action, but creates an environment that perhaps promotes harm? We can take for example the many horror films proliferating in our theaters glorifying violence. For example, the recent film The Last House on the Left, displays an egregious amount of violence, specifically against young women. Whether or not people like or even see this movie is not the point, it is the fact that this kind of movie is produced and expected to make money that speaks more broadly about “harm” in today’s society. What is your take?