GrassRoots continues to uphold to freedom of speech
September 29, 2006
Recent articles and letters to the editor in the Aspen Daily News have addressed the question of limits to free speech. At GrassRoots TV, free speech is the raison d’être. Considering the limits to freedom are not new to us. Are there limits to natural, human or civil rights? What are they? Who determines them? What authority or principles are those limits based upon? What is the penalty for crossing those limits? Who enforces the limits and penalties?Can there be a statement on television that can create as “clear and present” a danger as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater? Is disseminating hateful statements or unsubstantiated falsehoods protected by and/or antithetical to a modern free society? Is it best to keep generally accepted evil or dangerous ideas out of the public forum? As executive director of this community operated media, these questions force me to acknowledge the limits of my wisdom. So I, like Thomas Jefferson, instead put my faith in the intelligence of an educated and free citizenry to determine that which is appropriate, worthy and true.The Supreme Court of the United States has also struggled with the limits to free speech, at times limiting it, and then backtracking on its own decision, primarily in regard to sedition. But even when it comes to violent overthrow of the government, the Supreme Court recognizes the right to discuss such a concept in the abstract. It draws the line at direct instigation of such violence. In other areas, the court has kept a much stricter interpretation of the First Amendment. It has defended the right to anonymous free speech. It has repeatedly struck down laws restricting political messages or the content of news in newspapers.Most to the point of this discussion, in Miami Herald Pub. Co. v. Tornillo (1971), the Court unanimously struck down a state law requiring newspapers criticizing political candidates to publish their responses. The state claimed that the law had been passed to ensure press responsibility. Finding that only freedom, and not press responsibility, is mandated by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled that the government may not force newspapers to publish that which they do not desire to publish.The Court has placed some restrictions on TV broadcasters, because they are granted limited public frequencies. The court and Congress have noted that those restrictions specifically do not apply to cable stations like GrassRoots TV, however.At GrassRoots, members of the community actually do determine the content of the programming. First, all members of the community are welcome to express their viewpoints or viewpoints they support, as well as rebut or refute any other citizen’s statements or presentations. Here you are asked to test the boundaries of the medium. That, in a large part, is why GrassRoots exists.Second, standards can be set by the Board of Directors. The Board members are all full time local residents, and represent a fair cross section of the community. Some are brand new to the valley, some are native. All of our semi-monthly board meetings are open to the public, and the board welcomes all contact. Our next meeting is at noon, Oct. 5, in the conference room at the Red Brick Art Center in Aspen.Third, we presently have a vacancy on the Board of Directors. Anyone is welcome to apply for that position. We welcome alternative views to the status quo.The following can be found on the GrassRoots Community TV website: grassrootstv.orgCore Values: We passionately believe that the health of our community, and ultimately of human society and the global ecology, depends on inclusive communal problem solving. Such just solutions are only possible with the active participation of, and unlimited communications between, literate and sovereign citizens. The acceptance of every human being’s inherent right to free speech, peaceful assembly and access to information is the keystone of liberty, democracy and progress. The need for individuals to secure and exercise these rights was identified at least as far back as Rousseau and Locke, was consecrated by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, put into powerful action by Franklin and Paine, secured by the people in the Constitution of the United States of America, and is the essence of Walter Paepcke’s Aspen Idea.GrassRoots TV provides an egalitarian, apolitical and non-judgmental community media resource where the ideals of freedom and democracy are protected and nurtured. GrassRoots enables and encourages citizens to participate in unrestricted civil discourse, free personal expression and open access to electronic media distribution.GrassRoots is viewed as a valuable community asset. It weaves together the interests and needs of politically separate but geographically and economically linked counties, municipalities and neighborhoods into a single Roaring Fork Valley community. It helps dissimilar individuals understand their common challenges, needs, values and dreams.This unlimited communications link between individual citizens, their organizations and the community at large fulfills the intent of The First Amendment, enlivening our freedoms of speech and assembly from abstract guarantees into powerful tools for creating and sustaining a healthy, vital and progressive community.John Masters is executive director of GrassRoots Community Television Channel 12. Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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