TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Fonda’s Call to Censor Limbaugh Stems from Government Control of Airwaves

Although I may disagree with what Rush Limbaugh says, I will defend to the death his right to say it. That sentiment, inspired by Voltaire, is the proper attitude to take with respect to anyone with whom one disagrees.

But in an article recently published by CNN, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem—cofounders of the Women’s Media Center—instead advocate outright censorship. They claim that Limbaugh sometimes resorts to “degrading language” and “hate speech” (as if nobody on the left ever did that), and therefore his radio program should be forcibly shut down by the government.

What of Limbaugh’s right to freedom of speech? That doesn’t matter, the authors argue, because the radio “spectrum is a scarce government resource,” properly licensed by the FCC for use “in the public interest.” Limbaugh is “constitutionally entitled to his opinions,” they write, “but he is not constitutionally entitled to the people’s airways.”

Attorney Eugene Volokh points out that the Supreme Court does recognize First Amendment protections on the radio; “the government may not suppress speech based on its viewpoint, even if the speech is seen as using ‘government resource[s],’” he writes.

But the fundamental issue goes deeper than Supreme Court rulings. This case illustrates the danger of the federal government abnegating its moral and constitutional responsibility to recognize and protect property rights in radio frequencies. Instead of upholding property rights in this sphere, the government controls the radio waves, and the bureaucrats of the FCC serve as censors, granting and revoking permissions as they choose. As a consequence, radio broadcasts—properly a matter of free association between station owners, hosts, advertisers, and listeners—become targets of political pressure.

Fonda and company’s explicit goal is to pressure the FCC to use its licensing authority to force Clear Channel Communications to take Limbaugh off the air. Such efforts are to be expected from leftists. What makes this particular assault possible, however, is that the government has its hands on the radio waves. Advocates of liberty must condemn these government controls and call for the recognition and protection of private property rights in radio.

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Image: Creative Commons by Paul Schultz via Wikipedia

Posted in: Free Speech

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    Thought police, acting in the public interest? The U.S. is forgetting what George Hay understood a long time ago: George Hay, Hortensius essay on freedom of speech (1799).

  • Anonymous

    I really wonder if, without a sketch of its legal framework and a way to transition to it, anyone is going to listen to a call for freedom in radio broadcasting. Why not make a legislative proposal that touches the ground–so to speak? Something I’ve been thinking about recently… This came to mind after reading a recent article about the benefits of child labor; because of children, such a shift would still need a legal framework. For example, would the money earned belong to the child or could the parents use it any way they wanted? Without a legal framework, people will, almost instantly, dismiss calls for change.

  • Anonymous

    No one is saying Rush doesn’t have freedom of speech – he does – & he uses it liberally (no pun intended).  But anyone has a right to object to hate speech, name calling & degrading of any  class of people. So what if people on the “left” have indulged in “hate” speech, that does not justify it on either side.  Fox “news” & other right wing outlets are relentless in going after & bringing down those who disagree with their extreme right agenda.  They get away with it in about 100% of the cases.  Attacking Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, or anyone else merely for objecting to being put down & called names because of their sex, because they choose to speak up & defend woman is inane on it’s face. Obviously they have an impact on the subject by speaking up & using the power of their names to take the other side of Limbaugh’s position.  And they didn’t even call him a fat ugly drug addicted racits & bigot, which would have also been fair. You are attacking the messengers because you don’t like the message.

  • Hank

    You’re living in a fantasy world. As a gay libertarian, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the left wing resort to such mindless authoritarianism in my life, and certainly nothing in the history of the US. Your’re media created puppets.

  • Mike Kevitt

    Yes.  A written legal framework for radio frequencies is needed.  It should’ve been started in the very early 20th. century and developed as things went.  Now, it’s gotta be written out for the whole context between then and now.  And, as it’s a LEGAL framework, that automatically means declaring that radio waves used, or put to original use, are private property, privately owned.  Otherwise, any proposal has no standing to be made, and is to be dismissed out of hand, automatically.  That should’ve been recognized originally. 

    WITH the declaration of private property in radio waves, the proposal has automatic standing in being made.  Other, competing proposals with the same declaration, but maybe differing in details, similarly have standing in being made.  Calling for change without putting forth a legal framework might be ignored, but with that legal framework, its standing rests directly on the Constitution.  Such action in pursuance of the Constitution is a duty of Congress as per its proper function. 

    Strictly speaking, a declaration of private property shouldn’t be needed; it’s stated in the Decl. of Indep. and the Constitution.  But, it’s best to be stated further, denying anybody’s notion of room to evade it.

  • Mike Kevitt

    woodymcbreairty:  I restate what Ari Armstrong plainly said in his posting, what you seem to be trying to evade.  He said gvt. doesn’t recognize and propect property rights in radiowaves, and it controls radio waves and has its hands on them.  That overrides anything good or bad anybody might say about what anybody says over those waves.  Thus, that makes the point, not any complaint of any rightwinger against a liberal or even a complaint about censorship.  The radio waves Limbaugh speaks over should be recognized, in law, as private property.  If they were, how would the gvt. or anybody make any conservative or liberal shut up?

  • Martin Lundqvist

    “Limbaugh is constitutionally entitled to his opinions… but he is not constitutionally entitled to the people’s *airways*.”

    Replace *airways* with [Insert Medium Here] and you have a policy of far-reaching consequences, including censorship of:

    The List goes on…