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Truth: Can and/or should it be legislated in public speech?

I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech. But, even I believe that public discourse in the US has reached a point where people can say so much that is not true on TV and no one is held accountable that it is no longer serving the public good. The FCC rules used to say that if a program was called "news": it had to be true but this was overturned in 2003. There have also been several seminal cases where defamation of character was overturned because it was not possible to prove the speaker intended to lie. Has "speech" becoem too free? Is it ossible to legislate truth in public discourse? Can, and should, public figures be held to a higher level of accountability for speaking "truth" than private speakers?

  • Mar 12 2012: I partially agree with you; I recognize that we should be warned but if not, we should also be able to understand humor ourselves. Should we have humor spoon fed to us? Also, anyone has the right to make a joke, even if it is in the news. Along with it, people should complain if they don't like it. If the person goes too far with a joke they would be liable for it.
    • Mar 13 2012: Ah, "goes too far" is far too vague my friend. Should we have humor spoon fed? Of course not, a piece of humor's allure is its unexpected nature. However, have you ever said something in a joking manner and had the other person not understand that you were kidding?

      Joking and humor are wonderful things. And lying is a part of them. But, just lying, specifically telling a known untruth on a program sold to people as news is wrong and I think can and should be legislated as such. We have truth in advertising laws which save lives. I think truth in news laws once did also and the lack of them now has cost lives. (About 4,000 or so?)
  • Mar 10 2012: I have a feeling that this would censor a lot. Should the speaker or any comedian be arrested or fine for making people think? Why couldn't I make jokes on hispanics (I have a hispanic background)? Or for what matters on any race, sex, religion and whatever you can think of? Italy is still loaded with racism and jokes make people think. People that know the speaker know what e thinks and everyone should make a choice for themselves. As I'm typing this, I just remembered a t-shirt that I saw in college that said: "THINK, it's not illegal yet". If you control one of the means to thought and adding enforcement you kind of devaluate the meaning of the writing on that shirt. No offense to Americans, but I do not understand why you should put more and more legislation. I do not say that we should police ourselves, but we shouldn't have someone to police everything for us...
    • Mar 12 2012: Humor serves as a social safety valve. One of its jobs is to say true things that are uncomfortable. Comedians say things that are hard to hear in a manner which makes it palatable enough for us to hear it.

      However, when I watch the Daily Show I am told ahead of time that it is comedy. If I am watching a show that calls itself a news show I should have the right to expect it to be at least as true as my comedy.....

      I think we need a return to the old standard that said if a program called itself news then it had to be true. That should not severely curtail freedom of speech in the public spectrum or in public discourse.
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    Mar 6 2012: There is a difference between being accountable and being held accountable. The existence of accountability isn't the same as enforcement of it. that's one of the reasons we're seeing so many political scandals triggered by lack of honesty or wider ethical considerations.
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    Mar 6 2012: I have mixed views on public discourse in general as I'm not sure an effective enforcement mechanism could be implemented. However, if the speaker holds public office, then it would seem reasonable to hold them accountable for their public statements.
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      Mar 6 2012: if the man holds a public office, he is accountable. either he is elected, or his boss is elected, and so on.
  • Mar 5 2012: Truth is powerful. Truth works. I believe there is a high correlation between truth and sanity (and lies and insanity.) I think it's a good idea to encourage truth at all times for all people. Our society would become more efficient and effective at accomplishing positive goals.
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    Mar 5 2012: I, llike many others, have lied. I would tell you that your baby was beautiful even if it looked and smelled like a goat. Not all lires are ment to hurt. However, your question is valid and speak more to the ethics and character of the person. We accept that politicans are not truthful in their speeches and do ot keep promises when elected. Because we accept this they continue to lie and not be held accountable. The memory is short and we listen to the same promises in the next pre election debates. You cannot legislate truth and honor among the liers and dishonest. What would you suggest as punishment for a president who did not keep a campaign promise. Best ..,.. Bob
  • Mar 5 2012: Hello Sharon,
    Good relationships are valuable! We need to continuously keep this in front of people. It is NOT OK to lie, deceive, and maliciously manipulate people. You raise a good point worth spreading worldwide. We need to hold illuminating light on untruth and scandal as a needed general policy.

    The love of power can quickly corrupt and severely impede progress. It is right to consider our long human history to recall hateful, harmful, destructive human behavior through war and other methods. Can we imagine world progress in which people treat each other better? Being honest, ethical, tolerant, loving, respectful, gracious are all attractive features of relating. Your query is further evidence the opposite is not desirable.

    So, I'd support you in promoting the good features of relationships that are in stark contrast to the opposite, some of which you list in your conversation query.

    If you run for office and if I run for office, would we be good models? I hope people like you who question growing poor behavior will be heard more clearly throughout society.

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    Mar 5 2012: i think the litmus test is whether it is a contract or not. i don't like lies at all, but i think it does not have ethical consequences when anyone says anything with zero basis as long as it is not a promise. as soon as it is a promise, that is, a contract, it is binding.

    example case 1: i spread the rumor about a colleague of mine that he is goat molester. i think it should be completely legal. i didn't make any promise, i didn't touch anything that is not mine, i didn't prevent anybody from doing anything.

    example case 2: i sell milk which is produced using 90% milk, vitamins, calcium additive and water. i think it is a violation of the contract, as i said i would give milk, and that implies 100%. i have to pay back every penny i got, since i didn't do my part of the contract.

    example case 3: i attend a lecture, and it turns out that the lecturer teaches crap. i think in this case we need to carefully analyze what the precise promise was. if the promise was something like "contemporary methods of ...", then the lecturer only required to accurately describe what is the widely accepted knowledge, regardless of the actual validity of it. and so on.

    in short: speech is free. contract is binding.
    • Mar 5 2012: Krisztian, let's take your first premise. You spread the rumor about a colleague that he is a goat molester. Your colleague is NOT a goat molester. He loses his job because of the rumor. That is defamation of character which had real financial impact and can currently in US law be adjudicated. In most cases the colleague would win the case IF he could prove the rumor to be fallacious AND he could prove that you were the progenitor of the rumor. However, if the colleague was a public figure (long standing case law regarding this standard) you can say almost whatever you want. However, if you AND the collgeague are public figures there used to be standards that indicated that as a "public figure" your speech was more valuable and weighty and as such you could not say things that were defamatory and untrue without penalty. This standard has really been eroded in the last decade.

      Following your premise, if you are a public figure and you speak is there an implied contract to present truth in your speech? If the lecturer's speech is something you paid to attend and he teaches utter falshood that is proven to be false has he broken the contract?

      Current;ly, the fail safe of those speaking faslehoods is that they are presenting "opinions". But, if you paid for the opinion based on their expertise and they tell you something that you can prove is false and they knew it was false when they said it, doesn't that violate the contract. (In this case I speak of the case against Standard and Poor's record.)
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        Mar 5 2012: yeah, i'm not talking about the current legal situation. i disagree with many laws, US laws and hungarian laws too.

        for example, in my goat molester case, your assumption that the guy's got fired "because" of the rumor needs supporting evidence. i don't have such a power over other people's minds. if his boss fired him, it is his decision and his responsibility. he should have known better than just believing to anyone without the thinnest piece of evidence. it is his fault, not mine.

        about the lecture. we can not be sure about the truth. all a lecturer can do is to provide the best information he has. in most cases, it is absolutely clear that this is the case, even if not told explicitly. but in some cases, the promise is even less. for example a university teacher is requested to teach the what his employer, the university puts in the curriculum. an economics teacher might teach keynesian economics despite he does not believe a word of it. it is his job to give a certain lecture, and if he is not okay with it, he can leave. you, the audience, get what you have paid for.

        in my view, labeling views as opinion does not have any bearing. you need to consider all circumstances, advertisements, title, general presentation and the lecture itself. but it really has to be judged by some judges, on a case by case basis. however, if they indeed haven't promised anything but an opinion, they are not responsible for its validity. they are still responsible for presenting their honest opinion.