May a Corporation Limit Its Own Speech? — Sinclair, Part 2

Posted on 2018 May 13

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It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree. — Leo McKern

Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others. — Ambrose Bierce

Not long ago, a friend and I discussed Sinclair and the Zombie Newscasters — where a TV network forced all its local news announcers to read on-air a position paper that set forth the corporate board’s beliefs about “fake news”. I agreed it was creepy, but I didn’t think it required legislative relief. After all, the announcers could refuse, quit, and go work somewhere else; meanwhile, there are plenty of competing media outlets and viewpoints for Sinclair’s audience. 

But shouldn’t we regulate those who behave in ways we don’t approve of, especially corporations, whose influence can be huge? Sinclair has only nine percent of the viewership, but it can reach upwards of three-fourths of the country. If Sinclair makes all its announcers spout identical platitudes, isn’t it trying to force-feed beliefs into its viewers? Shouldn’t we try to stop it, especially as some of the on-air talent might disagree with the editorials they must intone? 

The pushback against Sinclair is but one example in a more general trend. Here (with some edits) is what I wrote:

Either we let people decide for themselves what they find acceptable — and they vote with their feet in the marketplace — or one side defeats the other in a political vote that forces everybody to have only one choice. You and I may not approve of somebody’s behavior, but unless he is committing assault or stealing, I’d think myself arrogant to presume to know how he should behave.

Until the late 20th century, people with left-wing sentiments chafed under draconian conservative laws that forbade miscegenation, gay relationships, marijuana, sex out of wedlock, etc etc etc. Today it’s popular among the electorate to pass laws that punish people who say rude things, smoke cigarettes, fail to hire the correct percentage of women and minorities, etc etc. All of it, old and new, is sheer arrogance, and the only reason people give it a pass is because each side wants a fresh chance to do it to the other.

Conservatives in their time and liberals today have believed sincerely they were doing the right things. Each side’s moral view has its points, but when that viewpoint is forced on others, trouble ensues. It’s one thing to disapprove; it’s quite another, and extremely high-handed, to forbid behaviors considered by only one side to be “immoral”. It’s like having a blue-haired old lady in the back seat, chaperoning your every move. Today, the Left is the blue-haired lady, preserving its legal hegemony by hectoring the nation. It’s no better than when the Right dyed its hair blue and spent decades legislatively harassing private citizens.

Sinclair’s Zombie newscast event might turn out to be popular among its audience, in which case our disapproval would have to extend to large swaths of the listeners — at which point I’d feel I was turning into a busybody. 

There’s no need to regulate private news gathering, even if some of the competitors in that industry control their own subunits. If such an approach irritates, people will tune it out, and the marketplace of ideas will evolve. 

Only the government, with its gigantic power to force compliance, constitutes a threat to speech and the truth. (Big corporations with huge market share must coordinate with big government to force the marketplace to serve only them. Without all those guns and marshals and FBI agents, the fat cats have no power to force independent news agencies to stand down.)

Neither should employees be permitted to use government coercion to force businesses to obey worker edicts. Firms usually have a fiduciary duty to make money for the owners or shareholders; that it is also their moral duty to provide for the desires of their employees is simply an idea cooked up by people who would like to acquire those extra resources without earning them. I’d no more approve of cheating workers out of their contractually earned benefits than I’d approve of workers using the government to extract extra stuff they couldn’t get in contract negotiations. This includes legally forcing owners to give anchors final approval of editorials.

In short, if Sinclair wants to make uniform its editorial policy across all its stations, and we disapprove of that approach, there’s no need for yet another law. We can simply switch channels … and watch MSNBC.

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Posted in: Politics