Defending the right to free speech

BY TONY FARINA

To those of you protesting Artvoice’s “What Do We Want for 2017” list, which included Carl Paladino’s much-criticized response, let me refer you to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

By way of background, I have been a journalist for more than 50 years including working as an editor at several newspapers including the late Buffalo Courier-Express, and as an investigative reporter for the Courier and for Ch.’s 2 and 7 in Buffalo. My journalism career began in the United States Navy where I served for four years to protect our country including our First Amendment right to free speech.

In today’s world, I see, read, and hear much that I disagree with and find distasteful and ugly, and that includes Carl’s response, but while I may disagree with people on their views, especially when it comes to politics, I respect their right to hold those views and express them even though they may be totally at odds with what I feel and believe.

For those who would condemn Artvoice for publishing the 2017 Wish List which included Mr. Paladino’s remarks, would you favor restricting the publication of all views that you disagree with? Would you favor a kind of censorship imposed by whoever runs the paper, including the kind of bias and spin that permeates much of the coverage we see on various cable channels these days and even in many newspapers and websites?

The world of news has changed a great deal from my youth in the ’60s when the effort was focused on telling people what was happening, not spinning it to suit the editors. That new brand of journalism is unfortunate in my view but that’s where we are. While I am a contributor to several newspapers, including Artvoice, that does not mean that I agree with everything that is written in the name of news in those newspapers or, to take it a step further, in any of our local media. I watch and read and form my own opinion, and I can read and watch whatever I choose thanks to our First Amendment rights.

I’ve known Carl Paladino most of my adult life, and that covers many years.  I don’t believe his response is an accurate picture of who he is. I’ve seen a lot of generosity and witnessed many good deeds for those less fortunate from Mr. Paladino and I’ve seen his vulnerability given the terrible loss he suffered not too long ago with the death of his son. He is a caring man even though sometimes he lets his political views get the better of him. I believe that’s what happened here.

Maybe he cares too much, and maybe he tries to convince people he knows what’s best for the country even if many might disagree. But I think that’s what drives him, not racism or hate. I certainly don’t condone in any fashion what he wrote but I’ll defend his right to express his views with all of my heart.

Artvoice is a small weekly newspaper fighting for survival in mostly a one newspaper town. It has taken on a different character in recent months and hopefully has become more involved in the matters of the day beyond the world of arts and culture. I view that as a good thing and am doing my best to contribute on issues of the day. Thankfully, I’ve still got a place to write at this late stage and I am grateful for that. Judging from the response I’ve received, so are many of you. It is, after all, another place to find views and opinion, and we should treasure that voice, agree or not.

Artvoice should not be punished for publishing Mr. Paladino’s comments even if the vast majority of us disagree with his words. He has a right to his views and can be held accountable, but he should not be restrained from saying what’s on his mind even if he now realizes it was probably ill advised.

The Wish List idea was something that the editors decided was an interesting end-of-year column and I think it was a good idea. Unfortunately, that good idea has been swamped by the reaction to the Paladino response and Artvoice must deal with a backlash and this is my effort to help them respond.

But remember, if you will, that censorship is far more dangerous than exercising the right of free speech, and I’ll take an ugly column and deal with it far easier than being restricted in what I read. The last I heard, I can still make my own decisions no matter what anybody says or writes, and that’s the real difference between America and much of the rest of the world.

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