Honoring the "Unwavering Principle" of Free Speech


In America, every day, virtually every moment, seems in its way to be a celebration of Free Speech. Living in the U.S., can you imagine a world without it? Unfortunately many of our fellow global citizens cannot only imagine it, but daily live it. How lucky we are. So it may seem strange that we choose one week each year to commemorate Free Speech, to praise its virtues, and talk about its impact on our lives. But if we’ve learned anything in the modern age, it’s never to take our core freedoms for granted. Thus, our partners at The Media Institute, and scores of organizations, associations, companies, and institutions, elevate the attributes of Free Speech during the third week of every October. And so we begin the 2014 celebration of Free Speech week, October 20 through 26.

Free Speech Week, according to The Media Institute, is “a non-partisan, week-long commemorative event, now in its tenth year, which raises awareness of free speech and a free press in the United States among all age groups and walks of life.” Fifteen years ago this week, then-freshman FCC Commissioner Michael Powell – who went on to become FCC Chairman and now serves as the President and CEO of our association, NCTA – recognized the importance of Free Speech in American culture, ironically, at an annual banquet of The Media Institute. “I have gained a deep and profound respect for the wisdom of having an unwavering principle that stands at the summit of the Constitution,” Powell said, “and holds: ‘Government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.’"

In his remarks that year, Powell went on to discuss the very real and dynamic tension among the framers of our Constitution, who saw the need for a strong central government, but an even more compelling need for protecting our speech from government intervention. “We did not sign away to a Philosopher-King the responsibility to determine for us, like a caring parent, what messages we should and should not hear,” he said.

Would today’s Golden Age of television have grown and prospered without the protection of free speech?  Decidedly not. Would our immersive use of the Internet have become a foundation of our daily existence without this essential right? Hardly. And would you be reading these words in a blog – or anywhere else – without our constitutional commitment to free speech? Unlikely. In the cable & telecommunications industry, we understand that our sheer existence, and the many ways in which our content and information have prospered, is a direct outcome of our right to free speech. We are not alone, as witnessed by the many other groups that have supported Free Speech Week: broadcasters, newspapers, press photographers, movie studios, attorneys, colleges and universities, think tanks, and perhaps most importantly, journalists.

A visit to the Free Speech Week website can help you better understand the rationale for this movement and appreciate its significance and you can follow the conversation on Twitter @FreeSpeechWeek and using #freedomspeaks. Our robust entertainment marketplace, the dynamic and intense discussion of our political landscape, and our very core behavior in the free and open exchange of ideas through social and other media – all are premised on our right to Free Speech. Let’s be sure not to take it for granted.