Right to Free Speech: What does it mean?

The controversy started last week, when Verizon (one of the two largest telecom carriers in the US), refused to make their network available for a text message program advocating abortion. The program allows people to sign up for messages if they choose, and is a completely voluntary exercise of choice for consumers. Verizon would have earned (some) money from the business, but instead refused it.

The move led to a storm of protests. As NYT observed:

Legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.

The dispute is a skirmish in the larger battle over the question of “net neutrality” — whether carriers or Internet service providers should have a voice in the content they provide to customers.

CNET opined:

The idea that a telecom carrier will refuse to carry messages based on content is incredibly scary. Could they decide to broadcast messages sent by the Democratic party, but not Republicans? Christian messages but not Jewish? Everybody has a point of view that could be viewed as “controversial or unsavory” to someone else. Apparently the First Amendment does not in itself prohibit such censorship, but we should not accept such an action, which has been likened to the mass censorship of political speech by the Chinese government, no matter whether the carrier agrees with the content or not. Laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmission on phone lines do not apply to text messages. It’s time to change that law to protect free speech, no matter how it is communicated.

In a swift turn-around, Verizon reversed its decision and decided to carry the message. The Verizon public policy blog attributed the reversal to a dusty, internal policy, but remained ambivalent about whether any such policy will continue to exist in the future.

In the US, newspapers have the right to accept or reject any advertisement for decades. Newspapers are a publishing medium, clearly protected by the First Amendment, as they are liable for what they publish. Radio stations have a right to reject and censor what spots and ads they run (an antiwar campaign was turned down during Vietnam and the court upheld the station’s right to refuse). What about search engines like Google and Yahoo? In February this year, a federal judge settled that question when it gave the same right to search engines as that of newspapers: thus, Google can refuse to accept any ad, without any explanations required.

Free speech and net neutrality advocates like Timothy Karr on Huffington Post are lobbying to convene hearings on telecom censorship policies. If the telecom companies were purely private enterprises, a ruling either way might have been simpler. Being a government regulated industry adds further complications, as Richard Koman argues.

One of the earliest advocates (I could find) who saw all this coming back in 1995, was Nicholas Johnson in the Wired Magazine:

We find ourselves a little late in the free speech day, having already lost our rights to speak through dominant newspapers, broadcast stations and cable.  But insisting on the total separation of content and conduit as the Internet is privatized may still be our best hope.  It’s the only free speech forum left for those of us without $200 million in spare pocket change to buy our own newspaper or TV station.

The court has already ruled that Google is not your public square. Are Verizon and AT&T public squares?

Advertisements

48 thoughts on “Right to Free Speech: What does it mean?

  1. Mahendra:

    This is the closest simile for how I frame the debate:

    Telecom companies as repeaters (~ dumb providers of fat pipes)? Or Telecom companies as routers (~ intelligent arbiters of the traffic passing through the pipes including editing privileges)?

    I think they are the former; by taking on issues like censorship, they are trying hard to do what is inherently not suited to their raison d’etre as businesses.

    Their shareholders should have a view on this. Consumers of knowledge, if so inclined, can find the bi-partisan ‘truth’ in many other places. Those inclined to partisan view, well, they do not get into these debates, do they?

  2. Well detailed out. Of course Verizon has the right to block anything they consider to be unsavoury. This is not a free speech issue, because the customer can dump Verizon and choose another carrier. In this case, it is rather unwise of Verizon to actually exercise that right in this case.

  3. Shefaly: repeaters vs. routers…nice way to frame it.

    I agree with you, that they’re trying to do something not inherently suited to their business, and that consumers have other choices.

    But that leaves the question unanswered: should these companies ethically be obligated to, and legally be forced to, carry all content?

    Ashok: I would have wholeheartedly agreed with you if it were not for numerous government, state, and regulatory agencies that are stakeholders in these businesses.

    I am inclined to agree with you, that the carriers are not public squares, and that this is not a free speech issue. But if you see the tremendous movement surrounding ‘net neutrality’, and reputed folks fighting this as a free speech issue, you’d be amazed.

    And of course, it was unwise of Verizon, but that’s besides the point…

  4. Mahendra:

    Neither routers nor repeaters have ethical filters. 🙂

    If it is truly a free market, people will find other providers. In the US, media is marked by sharp partisanship. There is some non-partisan or at least bipartisan content on the PBS and C-Span but that is about all. Most people, who care to get other views, turn to foreign media including BBC World Service. Even so they need a carrier who will not prevent them from getting access to such service.

    Censoring content is effectively also playing with the rights of the consumers, citizens of a free country. Is it not?

    As for unsavoury content in the USA, I think that is a whole new blog post 🙂

  5. Shefaly: It is not a media issue.

    Regarding censoring content: why should a carrier be forced to carry an advertiser’s content in the first place? This is distinctly different from government censorship – where the rights of a free country’s citizens come into the picture.

    By choosing not to carry this specific text campaign, Verizon is protecting its right to free speech. Consumer right is not to be exercised at the expense of private companies – they’re not public squares – so you can’t say they’re playing with any rights here. They’re merely refusing to engage in a business transaction and are well within their rights to do that.

    This is what is the other viewpoint, as pointed out by Ashok above.

  6. Notwithstanding the telecom regulatory regime in place, there’s no social contract or law that obligates Verizon to carry or not, any legal content. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe the Telecom Act of 1996, and its revisions, provide for any regulation of the content, barring a few exceptions like national security matters, child pornography, and the like (illegal content).

    Should the government have a say in the legal content that the telecom companies choose to carry or not? I am opposed to the net-neutrality bill. It’s a dangerously slippery slope leading down to Beijing or Tehran.

    Verizon should have the freedom to allocate its bandwidth, repeaters, routers, and all in what it deems to be its business interest. The folk wisdom here is that the monkey cannot be trusted to divide the bread fairly between the cats 🙂

  7. I dont think as a service provider, it has any right to decide which message it wants to carry unless its illegal. Its out there in the market to provide sevrvice to all without any discrimination. I would rather call it a matter of discrimination against pro-abortion camp than freedom of speech. If Verizon is against abortion, it could have given a ‘longer’ disclaimer in the text message giving its own views.

  8. The distinction between a service provider and a product provider is at best fictitious. A lawyer is a service provider, too. Does she have the right to refuse to represent the likes of Paul Jennings Hill? You bet she does.

    Verizon is a private business just as Proctor&Gamble is, and its only obligation is to serve the best interest of its shareholders, which is usually maximizing their wealth – legally.

  9. RTF: You are not wrong. Currently, there is no such law that obligates Verizon.

    I’m not very knowledgeable about the net neutrality bill(s), and hope to learn more in the future. What intrigues me is that this and net neutrality bill is being grouped and taken up by advocates as a ‘fight for freedom of speech’.

    And nice counterpoint to Oemar’s comment. It is always interesting when one considers the same question after replacing a corporation with an individual running a business.

  10. Oemar: thanks for sharing your view. I have a question:
    //Its out there in the market to provide sevrvice to all without any discrimination.//
    Would you say Google is out there in the market to provide ad service to all without discrimination?

    Should Google not have any right to refuse certain legal ads?

  11. I totally agree with The Rational Fool and Ashok. The company was well within its rights. If anyone hates it for it, change over to another provider.

  12. Mahendra:

    “This is distinctly different from government censorship – where the rights of a free country’s citizens come into the picture.”

    From a legal and a legislative point of view:

    1. Practitioner perspective: Policy making in the US is heavily influenced in every sphere by lobbying by the concerned industry sector. Ironically the term ‘lobbying’ comes from the lobby in the middle of Westminster Palace but Americans have evolved it into a ruthless art form.

    So the difference between private sector company enforced or government enforced censorship is fallacious, especially in the context of the US.

    Luckily for US citizens, the constitutional amendment granting free speech rights were not being re-considered by the current Congress!

    2. Legal perspective: Individual citizens have fundamental rights, secured under the American constitution. A limited liability company is legally speaking not an ‘individual citizen’ and therefore does not enjoy the same rights as an individual citizen does.

    An LLC is set up with the explicit aim of removing fiduciary risk from individual directors to a legal entity. Which means in the case of a bankruptcy, its creditors only have a charge on the assets of the company and not the assets of the individual directors.

    In return for this risk displacement, companies lose some “privileges” that individuals may otherwise enjoy. This is one such instance.

    And hence its censorship can be easily challenged in the US courts of law. What is worse that since Verizon is seen to impede an individual citizen’s rights under the First Amendment, those citizens have a right to take Verizon to court for a violation of their rights.

    3. As far as consumer choice is concerned, if more customers of Verizon read their EULA documents, everyone will leave! Verizon is relying on caveat emptor and resulting information asymmetries to defend its point.

    Verizon should consider in its best interest what Pandora’s box it is opening with this step.

    So net-net, if Verizon amends its articles of incorporation to say it will not carry such and such traffic, then based on that disclosure, customers and shareholders could make an informed choice.

    BTW in most court cases, re EULA provisos, individual consumers usually get away more advantageously than the provider who relies on the fine print too much…

    Thanks.

  13. Mahendra:

    “Should Google not have any right to refuse certain legal ads?”

    I would suggest you run a search for the word ‘Jew’ on Google and see the pink bar on top! 🙂

  14. Shefaly,

    1. //the difference between private sector company enforced or government enforced censorship is fallacious, especially in the context of the US//
    If you think the heavy political lobbying in the US blurs the distinction between private sector and government, I disagree. Regarding private sector, a consumer can still have a choice; with the government, there can be no choice, period. Legislation being debated by Congress is vastly different from policy decisions being debated at a Company’s board meeting.

    2. //And hence its censorship can be easily challenged in the US courts of law. What is worse that since Verizon is seen to impede an individual citizen’s rights under the First Amendment, those citizens have a right to take Verizon to court for a violation of their rights.//
    I fail to understand which individual rights has Verizon impeded in this situation? Are you answering my question at the end of my post: is Verizon the public square (which is the only context within which you can talk about right to free speech)?

    Also, none of the advocates, including the most vociferous ones, suggested that Verizon should be sued. In fact, most legal experts agree that Verizon is certainly not liable in this case (even if it had continued with its refusal).

    3. I agree. But AT&T’s EULA apparently is even worse! And these two cover most of the market…

    4. Regarding the Google disclaimer: I do not understand how it is relevant. The disclaimer is regarding how Google doesn’t want to manipulate its page ranking algorithm for individual, specific cases. This is related to search results, not ads. In fact, Google has the full right to and does refuse to carry ads, and doesn’t owe any explanation for the refusal either.

  15. If obligation to shareholders + more profits is the guiding principle, how does refusing business that would’ve brought in more money work towards that? How about the negative publicity as a fall-out and money spent to counter it?

    Was Ayn Rand pro-life?

    I’d think that the reason for refusing a service is something that should be considered too – along with other aspects that have already been discussed above, and I don’t think a single rule can apply to all situations – there are always nuances and impacts that need to be considered. I think the situation would be different in the case of a lawyer refusing a client based on his (lawful) personal beliefs if he is working for himself vs. employed by a law-firm.

    Another example to consider: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102501727.html

  16. I dislike the thought of being ‘denied’ any type of information on a ‘policy’.

    But, we ARE free to find our information elsewhere…..

    very good post, good detail-thnx

  17. Amit: thanks for your comments!

    No, refusing business, negative publicity, etc. doesn’t at all work in Verizon’s favor, and that’s probably why they reversed the decision. We don’t know the reasons why Verizon acted the way they did – the issue we’re debating is whether it has the right to or not.

    I don’t understand how Rand comes into the picture here or is relevant, but to answer your question, yes.

    The question of the reason for refusing a service is obviously the most interesting one for the entity who’s request is refused. The law however has given an absolute clean chit not just to telecom providers, but even search engines as well – no need to explain or reveal the reason…

    The example you’ve linked to is indeed very interesting! Almost a topic for another post in itself! Thanks…:-)

  18. BG: Yes, absolutely. If any business or company wants to survive, they better explain their policies. Notice how many companies today have ‘public policy blogs’? 🙂

    Thanks for the compliments. You’re most welcome, and glad to have you visiting again!

  19. Mahendra:

    “If you think the heavy political lobbying in the US blurs the distinction between private sector and government, I disagree.”

    I brought that up because in effect many of the laws regulating business in the US exist as a result of heavy lobbying by the industry concerned. As such some research shows they are very loaded in favour of businesses. So it is only the pathway the censorship takes, not the actual effect that differs.

    The Bush Government is pro-life and has been known to cut funding for abortion services to direct them into pro-abstinence services.

    To an outsider, Verizon appears as if it is pandering to the Administration for gains which we may not know of in public domain yet.

    “I fail to understand which individual rights has Verizon impeded in this situation? Also, none of the advocates, including the most vociferous ones, suggested that Verizon should be sued.”

    Abortion is a very loaded discussion in the US. It is a very sensitive topic as demands were recently made to reverse Roe vs Wade. Pro-abortion groups and individuals have a right to exercise their right to demand and receive and propagate their views. Verizon’s action to block pro-abortion messages is therefore not just a test case for free speech but also a touchy topic in US politics of the day.

    Against this backdrop suing Verizon could get messier than if the said blocked texts were about, say, vegetarianism or something less polarising than abortion.

    And in the US system, one Federal ruling cannot always be cited in other cases.

    “If the telecom companies were purely private enterprises, a ruling either way might have been simpler. Being a government regulated industry adds further complications..”

    This is a definitional fallacy. There is no such thing as a purely private enterprise. All enterprises function within the regulatory framework governing their industry. Telcos are no exception. Private ownership does not mean free for all.

    Since every industry has its own regulatory framework, I would be keen to hear examples of purely private enterprises…

    “But AT&T’s EULA apparently is even worse.”

    I am afraid that is a bit of circular logic. They may cover the market between them but that is more a sign of consumer inertia than the ‘rightness’ of the EULA contents.

    On the Google example: it was a bit of a short cut.

    Google’s policy prohibits ads that advocate against an individual or group. So if you set up an anti-semitic service, then you could not use Google’s ads service but you can still show up in the search results.

    I used it hurriedly, I admit, to show that the space is quite murky. Content – whether ads or texts or search results – is content. If companies start applying different ethical standards to all manner of content, it will get very complex, unenforceable and unmanageable very soon. And any asymmetries open to law suits and other legal challenges.

    Thanks.

  20. I don’t understand how Rand comes into the picture here or is relevant, but to answer your question, yes.

    Well, I was speculating if there was some ideological basis to the decision to deny service, given that it was a pro-choice/abortion group. Pro-lifers are usually against abortion.

    The example you’ve linked to is indeed very interesting! Almost a topic for another post in itself!
    Yeah, it’s an interesting example from many different points-of-view, though it is almost a year old now and Daniel Pipes covered it extensively.

  21. Amit:
    We can debate the rationale for Verizon’s decision to refuse service and its subsequent retraction, ad infinitum, but it’s pointless. If the shareholders believed that either of these decisions was not in their best interest, they have recourses in the law to discipline the board. Verizon’s customers, however, have no right to challenge its business decisions, except with their pocketbook.

    I don’t see the relevance of Ayn Rand to the current debate, but fyi, she was for a woman’s absolute and inalienable rights to her body/life. So am I.

    As for the lawyer working for a law-firm, the question turns on the firm’s right to refusal of service, and the contract between the firm and its employee. And, the answer doesn’t change significantly from what I had written in my earlier comment.

    Shefaly:
    I must point out that the LLC is not the same as the Statutory Corporation in the US, but the differences have little or no relevance to the topic on hand, so I’ll skip them (btw, Verizon is a corporation, not an llc).

    I also believe that you are confusing limited liability and fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders. In return for the limited liability, a corporation, an llc, or an llp, is burdened by certain corporate governance and tax related obligations, but as far as I know, curtailment of its right of refusal of service is not one of them.

  22. Shefaly wrote:

    … Pro-abortion groups and individuals have a right to exercise their right to demand and receive and propagate their views…

    … but they have no right to access Verizon’s property for that purpose!

  23. Mahendra:
    Ayn Rand was very much pro-choice in the abortion debate, as I have pointed out in my earlier comment. She was, of course, pro-life, too, but in quite a different way 🙂

  24. I don’t see the relevance of Ayn Rand to the current debate, but fyi, she was for a woman’s absolute and inalienable rights to her body/life. So am I.

    So she was pro-choice, not pro-life. That’s what I’d have thought too. 🙂

  25. Verizon’s customers, however, have no right to challenge its business decisions, except with their pocketbook.

    I’m not so sure about that. What you’re saying is that the rights of an individual are always trumped by the rights of a corporation – a non-human entity. If so, then I’ll have to disagree with that.

  26. Amit wrote:

    What you’re saying is that the rights of an individual are always trumped by the rights of a corporation – a non-human entity.

    No, I am not saying that, but you are 🙂 A corporation, imv, is a nexus of contracts, and a legal fiction. The Bill of Rights does not apply to these fictitious entities. As investors, Verizon’s shareholders have absolute property rights over its assets. They delegate most of these rights to the Board 0f Directors and the management, who act as their fiduciary agents. Verizon’s cutomers do not enter this picture – not legally.

  27. Amit, Shefaly, & RTF: I am very grateful for the interesting conversation here.

    Shefaly’s insight and Amit’s questions have answered a basic question in my mind regarding why advocates were terming this a a free-speech issue so vociferously. It is apparent that this is an outcome of the bipartisan (I like to call it bipolar) politics of the US, where the libertarian Left who (correctly) believe in the right to free speech tend to (wrongly) accuse Companies of trampling over individual liberty. And the conservative Right who (correctly) believe in capitalistic principles (for the most part), tend to (wrongly) trample over the right to free speech under various conservative guises! (Aarrrgh – I hate to use too many parentheses for disclaimers!)

    PS: Regarding my comment about Rand being pro-life, I’m actually very happy. I’ve never subscribed to that terminology. More importantly, epistemologically, I’m unwilling to cede the term ‘pro-life’ to the anti-abortionists, as Peikoff once brilliantly clarified.

  28. Mahendra: Thanks. Marty Kaplan, about one of whose turns of phrase I have written today had this wonderful definition for indecency (another bugbear in the US):

    “Indecency is the right wing attempting to redefine dissent as unpatriotic. It’s corporate chieftains being shocked that their profit centers depend on sleaze, violence and humiliation. It’s audiences complaining about the content they keep lapping up. It’s regulators exempting media from their public interest obligations. It’s pornographers hiding behind the First Amendment. It’s grandstanding politicians going after artists and intellectuals. It’s 11-year-olds’ favorite way to taunt their parents. It’s nothing that any of us hasn’t heard before.”

  29. Shefaly: Thanks for introducing me to Marty. It took me a while to learn his background to be able to appreciate the quote above. Yes, it is quite a comment on the indecency business!

    His Norman Lear Center seems intriguing in its multi-disciplinary purview. Maybe I’ll find some time to check out his Huffington Posts…

  30. Mahendra, living in the US for so long, I am well aware of the debate over the terms used by both sides – pro-life/anti-abortion, and pro-choice/pro-abortion. 🙂
    Actually, irrespective of who is right, both sides play these games over sanitizing the words used and phrasing their debate in a positive light. As for me, I’m not really attached to using any one particular phrase – it’s the actions and the rights that count. If you haven’t already seen it, there’s an excellent movie called Citizen Ruth that takes a satirical look at this debate in the US.

    TRF:
    We can debate the rationale for Verizon’s decision to refuse service and its subsequent retraction, ad infinitum, but it’s pointless.

    Actually, when it comes to women’s rights issue in the US related to abortion, it is not pointless, because it is usually the crux of the matter. 🙂

    -*-

    I do think that legally, the company was within its rights to refuse, but it does raise concerns over control and censoring of information. Freedom of speech is pointless without any medium for people to speak up or transmit their voice. So, the concerns raised are valid, from my point-of-view. Thankfully, currently there are other avenues available.

  31. Amit: I agree that both sides twist and sanitise the debate. But only pro-abortionists risk being clubbed by the anti-abortionists.

    It was all theoretical for me till I once saw a bunch of anti-abortionists downtown in Washington DC, outside a Planned Parenthood Center. Big guys, several of them, some preventing young women from entering the PP building! Talk about freedom.

  32. Or the metal detector (similar to the ones at airports) that I saw at the Boston PP. It is scary people resort to violence to make their point.

  33. Amit: //As for me, I’m not really attached to using any one particular phrase – it’s the actions and the rights that count.//

    Believe me, I spent many years of my life believing exactly like you’ve stated. I didn’t think that words or phrases or labels or terminology counted at all. All that counted was actions.

    That was until I learnt about, realized, and understood, the power of words, how they’re related to concepts, how they’re related to phrases, how that is related to the way we think, and how it ultimately affects our actions. (That’s what epistemology taught me).

    There are a lot of folks commenting in the blogosphere about “addressing the root of the problem”, whatever the problem may be. There are very few who understand that the root lies in the way we think, which is dependent on our concepts, which are in turn dependent on how we define them in the first place.

    I have had a hard travel to understand how our definitions of words and concepts actually determine our actions.

    This is too big a topic for me to address in a comment so I’ll leave it here.

    //irrespective of who is right, both sides play these games over sanitizing the words used and phrasing their debate in a positive light.//

    I do not think that those who believe in a woman’s right to abortion are engaging in games (as regard words used and phrasing debates is involved). If you term that as ‘sanitizing the words used’, please give me examples with definitions. Please give me one example where the concept ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ has been ‘sanitized’. Please also enlighten me by what you mean by ‘games’ and ‘sanitize’.

    //I do think that legally, the company was within its rights to refuse, but it does raise concerns over control and censoring of information.//
    I completely agree with you. That was the whole point of my post!

  34. That was until I learnt about, realized, and understood, the power of words, how they’re related to concepts …

    Yes, I am aware of this. 🙂

    The very fact that the terms used are “pro-choice” and “pro-life” instead of “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” is a good indicator of how both sides choose to present their positions to the larger public. That’s what I meant. Neither party uses the term “abortion,” probably because of the moral implications associated with the word.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if both parties spent a lot of money in doing some research on exactly the kind of power of words (that you mention) have on people and influence their thinking, and then came up with those terms.

    And whether you cede it or not (it’s somewhat of a moot point), pro-choice and pro-life is exactly how the positions are defined and debated here in the US.

    I hope this answers your questions. 🙂

  35. Also, phrasing the issue as pro-choice and pro-life implies that the other side is anti-choice (curbing your freedom) and anti-life (indulge in killing, don’t believe in the sanctity of life) respectively.
    I guess what I meant was that words can be deceptive, and are used to easily manipulate and rally people, and that’s why it’s important to cut through the bull and explore deeper as to what exactly does one mean by words and phrases, and what do they stand for.
    I am for women’s rights to make their own choices, but the debate doesn’t really affect me directly (I’m a single guy), so I’m not attached to use of specific phrases that both sides use.

  36. Amit: //The very fact that the terms used are “pro-choice” and “pro-life” instead of “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” is a good indicator of how both sides choose to present their positions to the larger public. That’s what I meant. Neither party uses the term “abortion,” probably because of the moral implications associated with the word.//
    I’m not sure about the sides involved, but rational people would choose pro-choice and pro-life to mean the same thing, by definition.

    When you say neither party uses the term abortion, yes, it is a sad state of affairs, but do look up the link in my previous comment.

    Your thoughts about people or entities manipulating the definitions of controversial words is definitely worthwhile.

    Rand offers many practical examples of it in her treatise “Capitalism: An Unknown Ideal”, where many such concepts like “common good”, “publc interest”, etc. are dissected to reveal their true meaning.

    You say://words can be deceptive, and are used to easily manipulate and rally people, and that’s why it’s important to cut through the bull and explore deeper as to what exactly does one mean by words and phrases, and what do they stand for.//

    That’s exactly my point! You said it yourself! And that is why, my refusing to cede the “pro-life” word or concept to the anti-abortionists is not moot!

  37. And that is why, my refusing to cede the “pro-life” word or concept to the anti-abortionists is not moot!

    Well, good luck changing the terms of the debate here in the US!! 🙂 🙂

    I just looked up the wiki entry and it has some details on the use of terms.

    You might also want to check out PR Watch on how the information is manipulated.

  38. Amit wrote:

    I do think that legally, the company was within its rights to refuse, but it does raise concerns over control and censoring of information…

    Let’s say a group of orthodox Hindu shareholders own and run a restaurant. A family of Muslims arrive to have dinner at the restaurant, and demand that beef be served. Does the restaurant have a right to refuse to serve beef? Will you call it control and censoring of the dietary habits of the Muslims? If a regulatory act were to be passed, that makes it mandatory on all restaurant businesses to serve beef (also pork, dogs, whatever), I’d call that a gross infringement of the fundamental rights of the restaurant owners, wouldn’t you?

    Iff (math alert!) Verizon’s shareholders were all anti-abortionists, and would loathe to serve pro-abortion messages through their assets, how can it be denounced as control and censoring of information?

  39. First off, “raise concerns” != “denouncing.”
    Please do not twist my words.

    I think your analogy is flawed. If the restaurant is already serving beef, then there shouldn’t be any beef (pardon the pun) in serving it to Muslims. The anti-abortion group didn’t ask for anything that Verizon doesn’t already provide (to others).

    If someone refuses to serve a group which comes across as arbitrary, it is not an unreasonable expectation to provide an answer as to what their reason is, or discuss this issue in press.

  40. Amit: //Well, good luck changing the terms of the debate here in the US!!//
    No need of sarcasm here, Amit. I’m not empowered to change the terms of the debate in the US, but am empowered to clarify how they’re used and interpreted on my blog. 🙂

    Thanks for the Wiki entry, it is quite illuminating: //Both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are examples of political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light…//
    I must clarify again that I do not subscribe to this political framing of these phrases. I think it is wrong.

    Your PR Watch link unfortunately led to a generic index of hundreds of articles, so I would be grateful if you can link to what exactly you intended.

    I agree that RTF’s example was not exactly similar to the case we’re discussing (as you’ve rightly pointed out). But to be fair, RTF didn’t twist your words, he was using his own.

    Again, I too share your concerns, and that’s why this post.

    However, I think the recurring difference in your perspective and mine is illustrated by your use of the words ‘service’ and ‘serve’.

    You say “if someone refuses to serve a group…”. Is Verizon engaged in offering a service? Yes. When it offers a service, is it a voluntary business transaction from both sides? Or is Verizon or any company that offers any kind of service obligated to provide it to all? Does it reserve the right of refusal arbitrarily or is that discrimination?

    I’ll again refer to the Google example. Forget Verizon. Is Google discriminating when it refuses an ad and is not held responsible to explain? Does this mean the court ruling about Google is wrong and needs to be challenged?

  41. Mahendra, I was not being sarcastic. If you interpreted it that way, then *shrug*. Easy to misinterpret on the Internet. 🙂

    Nice of you to come to TRF’s defense (a rationalist collective, eh 😉 ), but since I didn’t denounce Verizon anywhere in my comments, why would s/he use that term when responding to my words and quoting them, other than to force words in my mouth? An epistemological error maybe? 😛 🙂
    Unless it was addressed to someone else who denounced Verizon. In that case, I’m sorry I attributed “twisting my words” to him.

    I think you are nit-picking when you bring up the example of “serve” and “service.” I was going with the beef-serving example that TRF mentioned. If it makes you happy, then in my last statement, read it as “provide service” instead of “serve.”

    I must clarify again that I do not subscribe to this political framing of these phrases. I think it is wrong.
    Professor, I do understand English and I did read your earlier comments, so go easy on the condescension an repetition please. 🙂

    Since I already agree with women’s rights to make their own decision when it comes to abortion, this argument is pedantic. And uninteresting to me. I don’t really care either way as to which term is used, and if you reject the use of pro-life by anti-abortionists, that’s your choice. I prefer to play a secondary and supportive role and let the women be the ones making their own decisions on this debate. It’s just a little odd when men are so vehemently debating women’s rights and what should and shouldn’t be, and rush to define the terms of the debate.

    I provided the link to PR watch as a source for information manipulation that goes on in the society and media since you seemed interested in the power of words and how they influence people’s thinking. It’s up to you as to which article you read or not, since you love to read. They have a list of topics in the left hand column.

    Why forget Verizon? I can give you many analogies that illustrate this point, but an analogy goes only so far. When TRF comes up with an analogy regarding beef, is beef really the same as freedom of speech? If the restaurant served beef to everyone but refused to serve beef to one person because her views are at odds with the restaurant owner’s regarding abortion, then that’s a cause for concern. More so, if she needs to eat to survive (like democracy needs freedom-of-speech). (But even this analogy is not perfect because freedom of speech implies transmitting of ideas to others, so eating food is not the best way to compare it.) And there was no visible sign on the door that said, “We don’t serve pro-abortionists,” or if this policy was not publicized. Even more so if it’s the only restaurant in town. And she is well within her rights to question the decision, raise it in the media and discuss it in the public fora. Why should that be objectionable to freedom-lovers? Yes, she can also use her pocketbook, but that doesn’t exclude raising her voice. If something is perceived as arbitrary, she has the right to question it.

    Different businesses operate under different rules/guidelines. So what may work for a newspaper may not work for TV or radio (even though all three fall under the broad umbrella of “media”) or a restaurant, or a grocery store. What if the analogy is of a doctor in a village refusing to treat a patient because the patient believes in abortion, whereas the doctor doesn’t? And he’s the only doctor in town? And the patient’s life depends on the doctor treating him? But it’s not the same, because doctors have the Hippocratic oath, whereas Verizon doesn’t. So, analogies don’t always work 100%.

    And the situation would be different if Verizon was the only service provider in the market having a monopoly, than if there were other companies providing the same service. I’ll refer you to my conclusion in comment #31.

    Seems like I touched a raw nerve somewhere with my comments, and if so, my apologies. But I’ve said enough on this post and I don’t see any need to repeat myself, or continue to argue for argument’s sake.

Comments are closed.