Freedom of speech

How many times have we seen an advertising campaign draw adverse comments and thereby gain additional airtime on the news, free repetition in the press, and public attention through word of mouth? Allegedly no publicity is bad publicity and, so long as the adverse comments aren’t too bad, it can be a successful marketing tactic. 

I also wonder about the effectiveness of pressure groups or critics decrying television programmes (or, indeed, movies). Whilst some may be swayed many others will be curious – and the extra publicity is all for free.

Shock-jocks like Howard Stern play upon this human behaviour as a way of generating discussion and possibly audience, relying upon the principles of freedom of speech to protect them.  But, so long as they don’t stray into the areas of fomenting violence, should they really need protection as no-one is being forced to listen to their output?  There is always the “off” switch – or probably another hundred or more channels with something they might consider more palatable.

Indeed, are the people who rant and rave about how shocking something is, how much they would like to wreak vengeance upon someone for simply expressing their opinion, really just playing into the hands of the original publisher and giving them what they are really after: an audience and some free publicity?

In this connected world, bedecked with twitter updates and facebook statuses, a simple comment can ignite a flame war propelling a comment far, far wider than any paid publicity machine could hope to achieve. I would never have read some of the items that made me think of today’s subject had it not been for repost of and comment on something quite harmless (if potentially bigoted).

But maybe that’s the real point? Aren’t both sides entitled to the same freedom of speech in a civilised society?  After all, wouldn’t a fair doctrine in this area be best defined as “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”?