WASHINGTON (Dec. 23)
Broadcasters have the right to demand an advance copy of talks and to refuse to broadcast speeches likely to stir up religious prejudice and strife, Neville Miller, president of the National Association, of Broadcasters, has asserted in a statement which declare that broadcasts inciting racial and religious hatred “are an evil not to be, tolerated.”
This statement, obviously referring to Father Charles E. Coughlin’s being barred from YMCA and other stations, was said to be receiving close attention by Frank R. McNinch, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, as was Dorothy Thompson’s demand for an FCC investigation of the Cough in speeches, but Mr. McNinch has made no public comment.
“The right of free speech is a right which extends to every American citizen,” Mr. Miller said. “It is a right which broadcasters interpret as one requiring that equal opportunity be available for the expression of honest divergence of opinion. But in administering this responsibility we must also be cognizant of the fact that radio by its very nature reaches all classes of our fellow citizens, regardless of race, religion or conviction, and that there is no obligation to broadcast a speech which plays on religious bigotry, which stirs up religious or racial prejudice or hatred. Such a speech is an abuse of the privilege of free speech and unworthy of American radio.
“It must be recognized that broadcasters are responsible under the law of our land for anything that may be said over their facilities which is libelous or slanderous. In a number of instances suits have been filed and judgments have been rendered against broadcaster in favor of the aggrieved, where libel or slander was proved. These decisions have placed the responsibility for libel or slander squarely upon the broadcaster.
“No obligation of free speech or of public service could justify broadcasters in allowing this great new social force to strike at the harmony of the nation. In a country of many races and many religions amicably dwelling together, broadcasts inciting racial and religious hatred are an evil not to be tolerated. In these troubled times throughout the world, there is a great need for national unity. And in the hearts of the vast majority of our people I believe there is a great yearning for unity.
“The responsibility for the content of programs rests upon the broadcaster; to determine what is in the public interest requires the exercise of an informed and matured judgment. He is well within his rights to demand an advance copy of any proposed radio talk. He is well within his rights to close his facilities to any speaker who refuses to submit it. He is well within his rights to refuse to broadcast a speech plainly calculated or likely to stir up religious prejudice and strife.
“Such action is merely an act of good stewardship, distinctly in the public interest, and is not an abridgment of the right of free speech. The situation parallels the example once given by the late Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the United States Supreme Court, where he declared that free speech did not give a man the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”