Since 1992, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression
has awarded annual Muzzle Awards to those who, in the eyes of the organization, have done the most to damage freedom of expression in the United States. Past recipients include President Bill Clinton
, both major political parties
, the Motion Picture Association of America
, John Ashcroft
, and, of course, the now-infamous Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Last week, the winners of the 2006 Muzzle Awards were announced. This year's hall of shame features:
President Bush already won first place
in the 2000 Muzzles, but his decision to ignore the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, and order the National Security agency to monitor international phone calls of U.S. residents without congressional or judicial approval, was enough to earn him the dubious distinction of a second award.
In June 2004, the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA), banning all commercial Internet speech deemed "harmful to minors," was sent back to lower courts for review
by the Supreme Court partly on the grounds that filtering software would be a less restrictive means of protecting children from harmful online content.
To bolster its case before the lower courts, the Department of Justice then turned its attention to threatening Internet privacy by demanding search engine data from Google in an effort to show that filtering technology would not adequately protect children from objectionable Internet content. Google initially refused to comply, but was ultimately forced to do so. For attacking Internet privacy as part of an effort to threaten Internet free speech, the Department of Justice has earned itself a Muzzle.
Everyone now knows about the FCC's recent war on "indecent" broadcast television and radio content, which is predicated on the idea that television and radio waves are public property. But Kevin Martin now wants to extend the FCC's indecency regulations to cover private property as well--namely, satellite and cable television. It's unlikely he'll ever get the chance--there is absolutely no legal basis for giving the FCC that power, and the Supreme Court has consistently ruled against similar attempts at restricting free speech--but at least when Howard Stern calls himself "the king of all media," he doesn't mean it literally.
When Fort Lauderdale attorneys John Pape and Marc Chandler decided to use a pitbull logo to advertise their personal injury claim services, the State of Florida attempted to shut down their advertising program by charging that it was "sensational," in violation of Florida's strict ad laws. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, the chief justice remarking that if the pitbull logo were declared acceptable, "images of sharks, wolves, crocodiles and piranhas could follow." Perish the thought.
In 1994, a New York City artist named March Ecko applied for a permit to host an art exhibit featuring graffiti art drawn on two-dimensional panels designed to resemble the wall of a subway. The permit was originally granted in July 2005, but the municipal government--led by Mayor Bloomberg--revoked it a month later on grounds that it would encourage artists to draw graffiti on real
subway cars. If this principle were applied to other media, nearly all classic novels, films, operas, rap albums, and video games would also be banned.
On December 7th, 2005, Connecticut native Ann Coulter spoke to the College Republican Club at the University of Connecticut. Or at least she tried
to speak to them; a large group of liberal student hecklers drowned her out. Just two days earlier, antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan spoke on campus and conservative students had made no similar attempt to prevent students from hearing her speak.