Concept Week 11/12

Right to free speech: Difference between protections for political vs. commercial speech

By Austin Merritt

Free speech can be a wonderful thing. It can inform a citizen, let a citizen be heard, but it can also bring about major controversies. Men and women have given their lives for us to keep this privilege. Free speech, granted to us in the first amendment, does not mean that we have absolute free speech though. If my speech brings about a threat, stirs up violence, or invokes a violent revolt against the organized government, I do not have protection for my speech. If my political speech were to threaten the national security or destroy someone’s reputation with false information, I do not have protected speech. Different protections on speech are present in the status quo today. Commercial speech is speech used that obtains a profit through publications. For example, commercial speech could be newspapers, or advertisements. Political speech may pertain to anything based upon government. It can be seen in elections to everyday functions, such as the military. Commercial speech does not allow libel (slander) to be expressed so that it defames or destroys the reputation of another person. But in political speech we see that all the time. Look at the election last year. Romney and Obama were not portrayed to be the same person as they see themselves when they look in the mirror every morning. As long as there is a hint of the truth in the statement, it is allowed to remain. Commercial speech has a lot of protection in terms of copyrights, regulations and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The FCC regulates what can be said through commercial and political speech for that matter. For example, certain words cannot be used across mass communication. People have been in trouble for using certain cuss words. Again other protections may be for more political reasons. Recently seven SEALs were in trouble for disclosing classified information to a video game. The reason that political freedom does not exist in this situation is that it can put our national security at risk. If I were to sum up the regulations on freedom of speech for political speech and commercial speech it would be this: Freedom for political speech is protected if it does not bring risks to national security, does not undermine the government and is not false. Freedom for commercial speech has to be true in nature, meet FCC standards, not inflict harm upon others, and not stir up a revolt against the government.

My example that I found on USA Today is about how seven Navy seals are being punished for their involvement with disclosing personal information to a video game company. There is also an example of a former SEAL who writes about the raid that occurred in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The SEALS involved with the video game are being reprimanded because they have disclosed personal information that they promised they would not give out. True that in the military, you have certain guidelines, but this goes to show you that the government does have the power to limit what you can disclose but they can’t control what you say 100%.

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