Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

In Defense of Free Speech

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

In Defense of Free Speech

Article excerpt

As part of the nation's intellectual community, public relations professionals should help dispel the notion that a person has to choose between moral values and free speech, according to Danny Goldberg, senior vice president of Atlantic Records in Los Angeles and current chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. "That's a totally false choice," Goldberg said. "We need free speech and morality."

With their ability to generate news coverage, public relations professionals "set the tone" for new ideas in society, noted Goldberg, who entered the communications field at age 18 as an independent rock music reporter and later worked as a public relations executive. "Your stake in freedom of speech is no different than a journalist's, an editor's, or a rapper's," Goldberg told public relations practitioners at an October meeting hosted by PRSA's Los Angeles Chapter. "You share our dependence on the First Amendment and on free speech."

Goldberg's remarks were timely. Time-Warner, Atlantic Records' parent company, recently bowed to public and stockholder pressure to pull Ice-T's controversial rap song "Cop Killer" from the shelves of music stores across the United States. "It brought home how fragile the system we have here is," the record executive said.

Battles over First Amendment rights are nothing new. Freedom of speech and expression has been threatened numerous times in modern American history, not only by the courts but by public opinion, according to Goldberg. He pointed to Hollywood's blacklisting of writers such as Arthur Miller in the 1950s, the decision by a major chain of video stores to not rent the Oscar-nominated 1988 film "Last Temptation of Christ," and a well-organized letter-writing campaign that successfully pressured some corporate sponsors into withdrawing their advertising support of the 1992 made-for-television movie, "Roe vs. Wade."

Despite the advances made for freedom of speech in the United States, each generation has to reaffirm this right, Goldberg stated. "It's not one of those things that stays there forever," he warned.

Ice-T would probably agree. …

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