The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 2nd

Pit Talk

How media law affects your everyday life

Gary’s in the Pit, graphic fetus pictures are in the quad, there are five Dance Marathoners within a 20-foot radius of you — and all these people are trying to get your attention. Why are they even allowed to do this?

You can blame media law.

All of these entities are engaging in speech that is protected by the First Amendment and statutory law.

For those of you that can’t recite the First Amendment off of the top of your head, here it is:

“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 the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Good stuff! Some key takeaways from this coveted text:

  • This amendment gives us FIVE, yes, five! explicit rights: free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble and freedom to petition the government.
  • It’s a negative law. Instead of saying, “you can write whatever you want,” it says, “Congress shall make no law abridging this and that and this.”
    • This NOT a free ticket for you to talk poop about your ex-significant other/opposing political party/people of races that are not yours on Yik Yak/Facebook/Twitter/anywhere public, because freedom of speech means that the government cannot make laws restricting our speech, not necessarily, “I can say whatever I want without consequence.”

But why can our friend Gary the Pit Preacher say whatever he wants? Because he’s in a public forum that we know as “the Pit.” This is also why the Genocide Awareness Project can put their display in the middle of everything. Both the quad and the Pit are public places on public property.

The same goes for our Dance Marathon friends — yes, they can as persistent as they want. The only time they, or others, would not be allowed to do so is if they were saying “fighting words” or statements that prompted “incitement” or “true threats” of violence. Slurs, bomb threats or “I’m going to stab you,” are not protected by “freedom of speech.”

Also not protected: “(insert name here) is a (a bad word or description that is not true).” These are defamatory comments are they’re not OK! This is why Yik Yak won’t let you write people’s names in their posts. Sometimes it’s bullying and sometimes it’s a lawsuit. Either way, not fun and super not OK!

So remember, kids, read up on some media law…and don’t walk through the Pit if it bothers you that much.

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