Contnent Regulation and the First Amendment
There is question that a protocol of content regulation is problematic, and that attempting to regulate media challenges some of the most cherished precepts in the Constitution. But it is also important to protect children and their future. The problem is how to reconcile the protection of children’s rights without infringing on the First Amendment rights of adults (Friedman, 2000).
As the media continues to expand its role into the area of communication technology, the government’s control of media regulation and oversight of First Amendment protection has also grown. The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech of the press”, this phrase serves as the foundation for mass communication law (Friedman, 2000). The primary purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the public’s right to participate in the free exchange of ideas. Accordingly, speech should not be threatened by government censorship. Similarly, the public must be free to express their ideas without excessive and intrusive regulation.
However, the First Amendment does not protect all forms of expression (Dobeus, 1998). Many home pages contain inappropriate material and content for children. Although this type of speech is constitutionally protected and suitable for adults, many parents fear that it harms their children. In the history of mass communication, the First Amendment has played a vital role in determining how technology will be developed and communicated to a mass audience. It is important to address how the convergence of many media technologies and the increased competition among them will affect the way people exchange information.
The Internet is deserving of full First Amendment protection because of the incredibly diverse amount of information that freely flows through cyberspace. There are four characteristics of Internet communication that support protection. First, the diversity of Internet content stems from its low barriers to entry. The Internet provides a single user the ability to reach millions of listeners at a cost that is significantly less than other forms of mass communication. Second, low barriers to entry are identical for both speakers and listeners. As a result, an Internet user may utilize different forms of Internet communication to become a speaker and listener simultaneously. Third, ease of access results in the publishing of an incredibly diverse amount of information. Fourth, the Internet creates a relative parity among speakers because all who wish to comment on a subject may freely communicate through the medium (Dobeus, 1998).
The scope and diversity of Internet communication mirrors the very purpose of the First Amendment; to preserve the free flow of information in a marketplace of ideas. As such, the Internet must receive the highest level of constitutional protection in order to repel any government interference that would limit Internet speech (Dobeus, 1998).