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Renowned First Amendment Attorney Floyd Abrams Assesses State of Free Speech in New Paper Released by The Media Institute

FOR RELEASE: October 17, 2005

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute


Arlington, Va., Oct. 17, 2005 - Floyd Abrams, one of the nation's most prominent First Amendment attorneys and advocates, gives Congress and the courts mixed reviews for their handling of free-speech issues in a paper released today by The Media Institute.

Abrams notes a trend he finds discouraging, that policymakers "take First Amendment positions based on whether they happen to agree with the ideological side being benefited or harmed in a particular case." He cites the recent campaign-finance reform legislation and its severe restrictions on political advertising as a case in point.

Abrams also discusses shield laws to protect reporters and their confidential sources, and the question of whom should receive such a privilege in the age of bloggers and Internet news. "If everyone's a publisher, then one thing I know for sure is that no one will get the privilege," Abrams warns.

On the bright side, Abrams notes three "uniquely American contributions" to free speech: "We have all but banned prior restraints on the press ... we have effectively banned all efforts to compel speech ... we have significantly limited the imposition of civil or criminal sanctions even on speech that we do not fully protect."

Abrams originally delivered his remarks at a luncheon gathering of The Media Institute's First Amendment Advisory Council in Washington. Abrams is a member of that council. He spoke in June shortly after the release of his new book, Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment (Viking Penguin). His luncheon comments were edited and published as one of the Institute's Perspectives policy papers under the title "Reflections of a First Amendment Advocate."

The Media Institute is releasing Abrams's paper Oct. 17 as part of its celebration of the first annual National Freedom of Speech Week (NFSW), Oct. 17-23, 2005. NFSW is a joint program of The Media Institute and the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation. Five partner organizations are also supporting NFSW: the American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Bar Association, Americans for the Arts, National Constitution Center, and National Endowment for the Humanities.

For a copy of the Perspectives paper, contact The Media Institute at 703-243-5700. For more information about the Institute, visit