(Mike McVay) “The weight of your words … are heavier than ever and the ripples that they create … are greater than ever.” That was something that one of my former employers said to me following an error in judgement by a member of my team.
No one died from the error in judgement. No one lost their job. It created a moment requiring intense focus to sooth those who had been offended. The employee was reprimanded, but not terminated. The experience stuck with me and that statement is one that I’ve used with others. It was a powerful learning moment.
The weight of our words is something to be remembered by those of us whose words are listened to on large platforms. It’s something to be remembered by those of us who are responsible for content creation. We have seen and heard such evidence on many news platforms across North America.
It is a fine line between Freedom of Speech and crossing the line to be in violation of the First Amendment. It may surprise some that there are exceptions to having the right to free speech. Free speech does not mean that anyone can say anything they want in any and every situation.
Categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the First Amendment (and therefore may be restricted) include obscenity, fraud, child pornography, speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, speech that violates intellectual property law, true threats, and commercial speech such as in advertising.
Along with communicative restrictions, less protection is afforded for uninhibited speech when the government acts as subsidizer or speaker, is an employer, controls education, or regulates the mail, airwaves, legal bar, military, prisons, and immigration.
It should be obvious that this article was prompted by what we’ve been seeing and hearing in the news since January 6th. Including another impeachment. My intention is not to take sides politically. It isn’t to chastise anyone. I’m not furthering a liberal or a conservative agenda. I’m not, as some news outlets or organizations have done, blaming media for recent violent events. My purpose is to remind the voices of our industry that they need to be responsible in what they say and how they say it. Censorship, though, is never acceptable. Asking someone to be responsible, accurate and truthful is not censorship.
The question that some talent will then ask is “How do I perform my show and avoid getting in trouble without losing my audience.” That’s a question that several well-known personalities have actually asked me. My response to them is “Don’t do something stupid. Don’t say or do anything that will get someone hurt. Be credible. Be truthful.” One would think that those words go without saying, but there is a lot of confusion among some talk hosts, and so it has to be said.
I don’t think that anyone is asking any talk talent to avoid questioning our politicians, asking questions of our community leaders, or talking about what the audience cares about. If the President’s signing of 31 Executive Orders since he’s been in office is a hot topic, you have to talk about it. Local talents need to talk about local things. Listeners in your community are concerned about things that matter to them personally. The home schooling of children, where they can get their Covid-19 Vaccination and an impending layoff of Law Enforcement in their town. A bridge being out is more important to a listener than most national stories.
The bottom-line; We need to be responsible. That’s all that I’m saying. Fanning the flames of dissent can be dangerous. If you’ve never watched the movie The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges, watch it. If you’ve never seen the movie Talk Radio, based on the life and death of KOA/Denver personality Alan Berg, watch it, too. They’re both stories with strong messages, one fictional and one based on a true story, that emphasize what can happen if we’re not responsible.
I am not attempting to act as the spokesperson for our medium. I’m not worthy of that position. I’m certainly not holier than thou. I’m a guy that learned that the weight of our words is heavier than ever, and the ripples they create are greater than ever. A responsibility that I believe we should all take seriously.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]