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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
September 11, 2007
(202) 289-8928
Tribe: New Content Regulations Betray First Amendment
Harvard University Professor Discusses Freedom of Speech at PFF's Aspen Summit

WASHINGTON D.C. - Government attempts to regulate television violence "run afoul of the First Amendment," Harvard University Professor Laurence H. Tribe told attendees at The Progress & Freedom Foundation's 2007 Aspen Summit. In his speech, Tribe explained that although the U.S. Supreme Court has historically been slow to apply First Amendment principles when dealing with new technologies, recent trends in the courts vindicate the constitutional right of free speech. Today, PFF is releasing a transcript of Professor Tribe's remarks from the conference.

In his address, "Freedom of Speech and Press in the 21st Century: New Technology Meets Old Constitutionalism," Tribe uses the current push to regulate violence on broadcast television to illustrate why efforts by the government to regulate content it deems harmful violate the First Amendment. Tribe explained that even violent speech is protected by the First Amendment and that this same principle applies regardless of the delivery medium and regardless of the intentions for regulating it. He also questioned how the government could categorize objectionable content without being constitutionally vague, overbroad, or without discriminating "based on the viewpoint that is expressed in the material."

Tribe took issue with the argument that because children are easily impressionable, centralized content regulation is justified. Instead, Tribe argued, "The argument is not that kids are malleable, and therefore, Big Brother should be empowered. The argument is that kids are malleable and, therefore, families should be empowered." Finally, Tribe argued against mandatory unbundling of content or "a la carte" mandates, explaining that the provider, not the government, should decide what should and shouldn't be bundled. He concluded, "[f]or the government to tell the individual as a matter of speech that you cannot sell speech X unless you sell speech Y or that you must sell X without Y would be a violation of free speech."

Tribe noted that recent court rulings have supported free speech. "In fact," he explained, "the good news is that the trend in the courts generally, and in the Supreme Court specifically, has been toward the vindication of First Amendment principles, even as the rest of the government, at all levels, has succumbed to the easy temptation to play the role of parent, regardless of the communication medium involved."

Tribe's address was followed by a short question and answer session which brought up such issues as freedom of speech in online virtual worlds and Net neutrality mandates as a violation of First Amendment rights.

The transcript of Tribe's remarks from the Aspen Summit is available on the PFF web site, as is an archived video of his August 21st morning address. For more information, contact Amy Smorodin at 202-289-8928 or

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation