Responsibility Required With the Freedom of Speech

courtesy hyundai/google images

courtesy hyundai/google images

I’m at the end of my night and I was reading one of the blogs I recently started following and I came across something that I feel compelled to write about right this moment. This is something I’ve felt strongly about since my college days at UNC -Greeley (yes in Colorado). As I was going for my journalism and mass communications degree I took a class called mass communications law. It’s a required  course, but it was very informative and it really taught me a few things that I think many don’t consider.

I truly believe in the freedom of speech, clearly as a professional journalist, but I also believe that there still comes with it a level of responsibility. I mean you don’t go around just spewing whatever comes to mind to whoever because you don’t know that person’s background, you don’t know that person’s story. Something you say can be genuinely insulting and quite frankly it could get you decked. You’d probably deserve it. You also don’t just spew what comes to mind during a job interview or you could hurt your chances of getting the job – remember that commercial where that guy called the interviewer “dumb ass” and it was pronounced DuMass? Yeah that pretty much sums that up. There’s just a time and place for things. There’s a way to say them and a way not to plain and simple.

Anyway, the blog I read focused on the lack of intelligence, sensitivity and, quite frankly, common sense by an advertising company when it came to selling a car. The ploy – show a man trying to kill himself in his vehicle by carbon monoxide poisoning but fails because of the zero emission. You’re going to try and sell a car by showing a man trying to kill himself? Really? How does one reason that approach is remotely acceptable? They were making a mockery of a very serious problem. They mocked victims and their families in one swoop. Disgusting. Despicable. Repulsive.

We’re talking about suicide. It immediately reminded me of when I was a kid. My mom used to take kids to school, kids older than myself. This young man, we’ll call him “Kirk,” was in high school I think. It was a long time ago and I was much younger than him. Anyway, we were coming home from school and there were a lot of emergency personnel, sirens, even a helicopter at Kirk’s home. We all went running over. The sad truth was his mom killed herself. Carbon monoxide poisoning from sitting in the garage with the car started and the garage door down – just as it was in the commercial. What a sick feeling I had. There’s another blogger who’s father did the same. She posted on the topic and called it “An Open Letter to Innocean and Hyundai.” I loved her willingness to put herself out there and more importantly to bring to this company’s attention to their lack of sensitivity and creative integrity, well just plain integrity at all, to have even thought about that kind of commercial let alone make it. It really was the dumbest thing to do and that’s putting it mildly.

google image

google image

People seem to think that our right to the freedom of speech means we don’t have to take others into consideration all. I suppose to some degree that may be true. However, there are repercussions for that type of speech. In my mass communications law class we talked about time, place and manner. This all applies to journalism but really it should apply to everyone. In some cases it does apply to non-journalists too. A journalist is protected by the freedom of speech but time, place and manner can unprotect them too if it can be proven that the speech wasn’t appropriate in at least one of those categories if not all three. There can be legal repercussions and that’s just the beginning. In this case, it could cost a company customers, etc.

I think the most abominable thing about this whole thing was the comments from readers. There were several saying okay it was insensitive but that’s okay. Freedom of speech. If you don’t like it, just turn it off. There’s no need to ban this, etc., etc. For the record, it was never banned but apparently the company has pulled it. Really? That’s your answer? I think it’s a total sign of the times unfortunately. A total lack of empathy, sympathy, sensitivity, tact or just plain class. How can you say that about this particular topic? So some jerk at an ad company can make a mockery of something so serious and it’s okay? To make a joke of or to mock something such as suicide, is beyond words. I really can’t grasp the thinking on that at all, particularly when there’s lots of topics that can be used to help sell merchandise. I really can’t understand how people think it’s okay to have done that. Maybe that’s just me?


3 responses to “Responsibility Required With the Freedom of Speech

  1. Jen,

    the subject you are addressing is really dicey…..have you read anything by the Jewish Professor Neil Postman? Every journalism course in college should contain at least one entire class devoted to his books……he talks about a number of the things you address in his books “Amusing ourselves to death”, “The end of education”, “Bridging a gap between the 18th century”, and “The disappearance of childhood”,

    the reality of the situation is that advertisers, journalists, etc; they threw their ‘responsibility’ out the window a long time ago. Integrity in those professions really don’t exist anymore….

    you’re a beat writer so that is a bit of a different animal; reporting on the opening of a new business in the community or the score of the ball game are pretty autonomous…’re not usually influencing the way people think; you’re just reporting a few simple facts.

    BUT advertisers, television news, editorials, have been influencing the way people think for so long….in such a specific fashion that they have each contributed to the massive shift away from intellectualism and deeper thought in our society…..

    Take for instance the evening news; in the span of 5 minutes you can go from watching a story about a massive murder to a story about cute poodle puppies which are popular to buy, to a story about an explosion that killed 4 people; the viewer unconsciously was subjected to a massive breach of context; as though a story about which puppies are the most popular is equal to the stories of murder and death……

    sorry….I have entire 5,000 page essays I’ve written about this subject and I realize I’m rambling and jumping all over the place in this post… simple point was to say that largely due to Postman’s influence I don’t think journalism has much integrity left…….(with the exception of beat writers like yourself 😉 )

    • first – its okay to ramble here any time lol. i don’t mind – im an expert rambler. second – while i agree to a point, again i’d say don’t forget that the media is a reflection of society. i agree that a 2-minute story on something incredibly important isn’t enough, it’s what people will watch. they simply don’t have the attention span for much more than that. society is a funny thing when it comes to the media though – they complain stories aren’t detailed enough and in the same breath complain that there’s too much coverage of a topic. kind of goofy if you ask me lol. i think generally there is still integrity left but unfortunately it is being influenced due to being owned by large corporations anymore; i definitely don’t see any left in advertising where advertising agencies are large corporations and corporations are only really interested in the bottomline. so we agree there for sure. as for being dicey well shoot just wait until i really start digging lol like talking about truly dicey topics such as abortion and gun control. i want this blog to be conversation and people talk about that stuff and it should be. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Not all speech should be protected | stormy musings·

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