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  • WUSC Talks About Free Speech Around the World

    Free Speech

    As part of WUSC’s Free Speech Initiative, News Director Nick Vogt and myself interviewed Randy Covington on 90.5 Minutes of the News.

    Covington is the Director of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers Newsplex and a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He has worked at television stations across the United States, for the Associated Press and in radio. As part of the Newsplex, he travels around the world to present workshops on investigative journalism and new media.

    In our conversation with Professor Covington, we focused on free speech around the world. “Generally, the medium that has the largest audience is television,” he said. “It’s not by coincidence that in much of the world television is government owned and government controlled.”

    Covington, who has experience training reporters in Russia, cited the country as an example. According to him, once Vladimir Putin took power, he moved to limit independent television stations in Russia in order to silence dissenting opinions.

    We also talked about the role of governments in restricting the newest place people are expressing themselves – the Internet. With the Arab Spring and the “Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong, the Internet took center stage. “They try their best,” Covington said of authoritarian regimes. “This Internet thing – it’s like whack-a-mole. You think you’ve got it under control, but all of the sudden this information is getting out. People will seek the truth.”

    Another role of the Internet and new media is citizen journalism. How do citizen journalists fit in with free speech? According to Covington, “traditional media organizations have yet to embrace the power of the crowd. As a result, we suffer. But it’s not like they are going to do our story about why this government agency is corrupt. We’re gonna have to do that story – but they’re going to help us.”

    Towards the end of our interview, we focused on an incident that made headlines last October. Covington, along with his colleague Joe Bergantino, was arrested in Russia on alleged visa violations. Covington suspects it was attempt by the FSB (the successor to the KGB) to stifle their workshop on investigative journalism because it was just a little too much free speech for the government to handle.

    The pair were hauled into court. “The thing that struck my attention when I walked in was this big iron cage that they used to put the defendants in,” he said. “Fortunately they trusted us and didn’t put us in the big iron cage.”

    Covington recounted how the session began. “[Bergantino] was up first and he’s trying to make the argument ‘I have a visa from the U.S. embassy’…and the judge cut him off and says ‘you don’t really need to make that argument, because you’re guilty.”

    Ultimately, neither was jailed or fined, but they were ordered to stop the workshop.

    Covington says one of the most jarring things about the whole incident was the reaction he got from two hotel employees when he asked their opinion on his arrest as they were checking out. “I have never seen such fear in my life as the fear I saw in their eyes,” he said. “For me, that…really hammered home what we take for granted.”

    As Covington and Jay Bender both pointed out during our Free Speech Initiative interviews, we do take free speech for granted. Hopefully our conversations about it on WUSC have helped to educate about the need for and importance of free speech.

    You can hear part of our interview with Randy Covington here.

    For WUSC News, I’m Ben Turner.

  • WUSC Talks Media Law and the First Amendment

    As part of WUSC’s Free Speech initiative, News Director Nick Vogt and myself interviewed Jay Bender on 90.5 Minutes of the News.

    Bender is the Reid H. Montgomery Freedom of Information Chair at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he teaches media law. He also teaches media law at the School of Law and is a practicing attorney specializing in first amendment law. He has represented the South Carolina Press Association and the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, as well as various reporters and media outlets.

    We talked with Professor Bender about free speech. He stressed that the right of free speech is always a struggle. “During times of turmoil, the government puts great pressure on unorthodox speakers and speakers who urge a view contrary to government policy and it’s been that way throughout our history,” Bender said.

    Most people know free speech in America isn’t absolute. The classic example is not being allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there’s no fire. According to Bender, “the Supreme Court has seen the first amendment as a right or a protection to be balanced against other interests the government might have.” This balance includes restrictions against obscenities and speech likely to incite violence.

    Professor Bender brought up something we are acutely aware of at WUSC – the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) restriction we must obey against airing swearing on the airwaves. This limits the music we can play and the on-air commentary we can offer, but it’s one of those restrictions the government has deemed in the public interest.

    Many people believe individuals abuse their rights, such as the Westboro Baptist church or the KKK. Bender agrees “free speech could certainly be abused in a private context…but the government cannot be offended by speech, particularly where it’s commentary on the operations of government and criticism of government officials.”

    He pushed back against the recent push to limit criticism of religion or try to limit “hate speech” against groups. “What is hate speech?” Bender asked. “How do you draw the line between hate speech and protected speech?”

    Bender tackled the issue of campus protests, comparing the protest at USC after the events in Ferguson with the protests on the campus of Coastal Carolina. He praised the reaction of USCPD, who worked with protesters and criticized campus police at Coastal, who arrested several students for defacing property when they drew chalk outlines on sidewalks.

    Bender praised USC on free speech, arguing “this university in recent times has been tolerant of speech and I applaud the administration for that. It was not always the case.”

    He encouraged students to speak out, noting “one of the beauties of being young is you have the opportunity to explore a lot of things and the limits of free speech would be one of those.”

    Throughout the interview, Bender offered a spirit defense of free speech. “Citizens benefit when problems can be exposed and discussed,” he said. “One of the philosophical justifications of the first amendment is that it is a safety valve. It allows the society that has unhappiness to express itself and discuss possible solutions.”

    You can hear our full interview with Jay Bender here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La5xuH3uvYY

    For WUSC News, I’m Ben Turner.

  • Interview with Boreal Sons


    Recently, I (Rupert Hudson, WUSC Music Director) interviewed Evan Acheson, the lead singer and piano player of Calgary, Canada-based band Boreal Sons. He was a lovely man and we chatted about haters, their new album, and maple syrup (not sure if we actually talked about that but it was implied).

     

    I’m very exciting to be interviewing you today. Especially because of the beautiful connection we have through your guitarist Logan (I went to high school with him). How did you meet him?

    Yeah, we call him the ruggedly handsome one. I met him a while ago through some friends. We went to the same live music events in Calgary. I think I’d met him very briefly and I was driving in rush hour traffic one day. I looked over and he was the car right where I wanted to be in traffic. We kind of had this silent moment and with motioning charades I said “would I be able to sneak in front of you there?” Of course, he waved me him. That’s why I let him in the band. I owed it to him.

    Who else do you have in your band and how did you meet them?

    Well, I play the piano and sing, and Logan has the guitars covered. Zack is on percussion and I have known him my whole life. Our parents were friends. And finally, Reagan is the bass player and I met him through an organization called Young Life.

    Tell me a bit about your childhood.

    Well, I was homeschooled, which was interesting. Actually, I thought that I had a very normal childhood. My mom was a teacher and she taught my three little brothers and me. The four of us were very good buddies growing up and I had lots of friends in the neighbourhood with whom I would go build tree forts in the woods and ride our bikes.

    Are you on tour right now?

    We are in the middle of a long tour right now but we have a few days off in Calgary. We toured the west coast of Canada and we got to play a bunch of really fun shows out in the Vancouver/Victoria area and also in the mountains. We’re getting ready to head east now. We haven’t really played anywhere on the eastern side of the continent so we are going to be doing a lot of driving in the next few days. We are so excited for new adventures and new sights. Our mechanic just put new tires on our van and he assures us everything will be a-ok for our massive trek.

    Have you had trouble with your van before?

    Well, we had an old tour van that was a lot of maintenance and trouble. In the end, it burst into flames on the highway. I called our mechanic and described to him what our engine looked like and he said “I think that’s probably all she’s got in her.” Zack, Reagan and I had been at a wedding and Logan was visiting friends in another part of Vancouver and we called him. Like a knight in shining armor, he borrowed a large van in Vancouver and drove 3 or 4 hours to come pick us up.

    Your new album Threadbare was just released, how does that feel?

    It’s great. It’s our first full-length album. We’ve had a couple of EPs previously but this is our first album where we sat down and strategically planned it out. We worked with an awesome producer and made our greatest effort and best product to date.

    What has the reaction in Canada been like? Have certain cities asked you to come play there because of this album or did you plan it out?

    Well, it was mostly us, but we have been getting a lot of media coverage. We’ve been working with some people to help us with publicity and they have been a huge help. We have got a few blog articles and album reviews about Threadbare. Everyone has been extremely supportive.

    Well, we have loved your album on WUSC. I think you were #5 on our charts this week.

    Holy smokes! I’ve never even been to South Carolina.

    You’ve got to come here! Anyways, do you have any good stories that come from your most recent tour?

    There was this cool bar we played at in Victoria, BC called The Copper Owl. It was a bizarre experience. The venue used to be a gay bar but now hipsters have claimed it. It’s like, a guy sits down with a PBR, another guy sits down with a fancy cocktail and they can hit it off. They can be best buds. It was quite small but made for a really intimate show. There was torrential downpour that night and crazy amounts of wind. I think it was a special moment as people sought shelter from the storm and huddled around.

    Are you going anywhere in the next month and a half that you haven’t been?

    I think I’m most excited to go to the east coast of Canada because I’ve never been there at all. Not even on a family vacation. I’m looking forward to seeing the beautiful landscape. I’ve heard there are lots of rocky cliffs near the sea and that the people are really lovely. We’re travelling through Quebec as well, and I’ve never been there either.

    I see you’re playing at a place called Burritoville in Montreal.

    I’ve heard from sources that is a beautiful old building, which should be fun. I’ve also heard that they have great Mexican food.

    Have you had to deal with haters at all with your band?

    No, not really. Oh wait, today we got a 2/5 star review. But you know, you’re going to get that so whatever. It is interesting though. I think having people give their honest opinions and poor reviews is not a bad thing altogether. It at least gives us a gauge for how many people are actually hearing it now. I mean, we’re not out there to win everybody over. It was such an awesome experience just to make this album and express ourselves genuinely and honestly. We can only improve from here so we are open to hearing honest criticism.

    What is your personal favorite song to play live from the album?

    Oh, good question. I think it would be Sparks, which is track 2 on the album. It’s a bit more groovy than some of our previous stuff. We’ve been playing a real Fender Rhodes keyboard on tour and the sound of it mixed with the drums, the whole band playing together and the movement of the chord changes is a lot of fun. Also, the song Coward has a bit of gnarly, staticky guitar solo on the recording but live we have been having a lot of fun trying to make it loud and crazy. Some of our fans who have been listening to our softer, quieter stuff will hopefully be surprised in a pleasant way by how these songs sound.

    Thank you so much Evan for doing this interview.

    Thank you! I hope to see you in Canada sometime soon.