Video kills free speech
Just about anything you want to say is protected speech — though you are not guaranteed protection from the consequences.
Case in point: At a recent Guilford County Commission meeting, wherein the Conservatives for Guilford County group screened a short video during the speakers from the floor segment.
The video is a political commercial, thinly sourced and short on specifics, endorsing a slate of conservative candidates for Greensboro City Council. But the content of the video is irrelevant. Speakers from the floor at any government meeting are allowed to say whatever they want.
The controversy comes because county commission meetings are broadcast on Channel 13, a government channel. Its bandwidth is donated by Time-Warner Cable and owned by the people; the city programs the air time, and as such it is not allowed to broadcast endorsements, political commercials or anything related to elections and campaigns.
We are also guaranteed equal protection under the law, which means that even if you don’t like what someone is saying, they still have a right to say it.
From the online policy statement: “Political programming will not be permitted on Channel 13…. Direct access to the Channel 13 for individual candidates or supporters of any candidate or issues will not be provided.” The rub here is the word “direct.” C4GC actually gained access to the public airwaves indirectly — through rebroadcast of a county commission meet- ing, exploiting a loophole in the language and following the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. But being sneaky is not in and of itself a crime, and there are people who truly believe that loopholes were made to be exploited. Either way, in matters pertaining to the First Amendment, it is best prac- tice to err on the side of free speech. Commission Chair Skip Alston at first wanted to screen all videos to be shown before the actual meetings — an illegal from of prior restraint. He has now pushed through a new policy that disallows any video presentation dur- ing Guilford County Commission meetings, a classic example of legislating away people’s rights. So now people can still speak in support of candidates during the meet- ings, as is their right, but they cannot use videos to illustrate this support. Ridiculous. The best possible resolution would be to keep our commission meetings a free-speech zone, and to excise content forbidden on Channel 13 before broadcast, which is what the commission tried to do with the C4GC video in the first place. But now we have a policy in place that goes against the Constitution of the United States. Nice work, guys.
The irony, of course, is that one of the candidates endorsed by C4GC, Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight, has been trying to diminish the role of speak- ers from the floor at city council meetings since his election in 2009, suggest- ing, among other measures, that the segment be limited to 30 minutes, and requiring participants to register a week in advance. YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration