Free Speech

There are pitfalls and responsibilities attached to the power of having a soap box that can reach thousands of people. As a podcaster, you need some basic knowledge of free speech. Many people believe that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects their right to speak freely about whatever they wish. This is far from the truth. The First Amendment protects you against government interference of your right to free speech. The key words are “government interference.” This means that the government can’t interfere when you criticize your senator’s voting record in your podcast. And the government can’t interfere with your podcast even if you take extreme political positions.

The First Amendment does not protect you if you create a podcast telling the world about your SOB boss. If your boss gets wind of this podcast it is quite likely that you will be looking for a new job. Your First Amendment right will not keep you from getting fired. Why? Because it is your company that is firing you and not the government.

Forget the old childhood taunt, “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will not hurt me.” You could get sued for libel or slander if you cause damage to someone through the words you use on your podcast or blog. What you say can cause someone to lose their job or get a divorce or cause them other kinds of damage. These cases often have very high requests for monetary damages.

According to established law, truth is a perfect defense against a libel or slander lawsuit. The problem is that it will be your burden to prove what you said or wrote is true. If you are ready to go to court to prove what you said or wrote is true, then go ahead and put all the juicy details in your podcast or blog. However, the better approach is to exercise caution about what you say about other people or businesses.

The Supreme Court Case, New York Times vs. Sullivan, 376US254 (1964), carved out an exception in the libel and slander laws for people who are public figures. Public figures are people who have put themselves in the public spotlight. Most national politicians and celebrities fall within the public figure exception. The exception created by the New York Times case is that you have to engage in actual malice before you can be found liable for slander or libel if your speech or written word is about a public figure. The burden of proof shifts in public figure cases. The public figure must prove that you knew the statement was false, or you acted in reckless disregard of the statement’s falsity or truth. It is rare that a public figure will bring a libel or slander suit because the New York Times case creates a burden of proof that is difficult to overcome.