November 14, 2005

The Online Freedom of Speech Act & The Blog Boomlet in Coventry

Carroll Andrew Morse

There are about a dozen blogs written by residents of the town of Coventry (see the blogroll in the extended entry below). Their content includes a healthy amount of coverage of the civically unhealthy dispute between Coventry’s town council president Frank Hyde and acting town administrator Richard Sullivan. Hyde is accused of trying to force some hirings and firings that are supposed to be under the control of the town manager (including maybe trying to force Sullivan to resign from his acting position). There is an emergency town council meeting scheduled for tonight with election of officers and hiring a new town manager on the agenda. The bloggers, of course, have their own opinions on all of these matters.

The blog boomlet in Coventry is a perfect example the kind of activity that the first amendment’s freedom of the press was designed to protect -- criticism of the conduct of government officials. Yet our current Congress may attempt to restrict this kind of online political speech. The pro-regulation crowd in Congress continues to argue that only established, corporate media is covered by freedom of the press and that all other political speech is subject to regulation.

Coventry may provide the clearest example of how this is the wrong attitude. If Mighty Isis or the Duck or E-Town wants to say that “we need to get Mr. Hyde out of office and believe that Henry Jekyll would be the best replacement” then they should be free to spread that opinion as far and as wide as possible, without fear of the government defining their speech as a coordinated in-kind campaign contribution and claiming the right to regulate it.

A couple of weeks ago, Congress attempted exempting the Internet from campaign finance regulation through the Online Freedom of Speech Act, but the measure failed. According to the Daily Kos, an alternative proposed by notoriously pro-regulation-of-speech Congressmen Marty Meehan and Christopher Shays is ambguous at best, refusing to expressly extend media protection to blogs.

James Langevin, the Congressman representing the bloggers of Coventry, voted against the Online Freedom of Speech Act, leaving the threat of regulation in the air.

One final “only in Rhode Island” thought on this. In pursuing a campaign-finance complaint against the Republican party, Board of Elections chairman Roger Begin attempted to clear a proposed settlement with members of the state’s Democratic leadership. The politcos he talked to were not affiliated with the BOE in any way. Given the behavior of the State Board of Elections, is it unreasonable to believe that bringing political speech in the blogosphere under government regulation will ultimately give William Murphy or William Lynch or Joeseph Montalbano the power to stifle new-media criticism of their actions?

The Blog Boomlet in Coventry (mostly via Town of Coventry Watch)…
I am the Duck
Mighty Isis
Coventry Union Worker
The Fabulous Rabbit
The Corpse Bride
CovSC5 Citizens' E-Forum
Jake The Beagle

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I agree with the Coventry Bloggers on freedom of the Blog and since for the last 3 years I do live in coventry and have the disgust of having The communist Representitive Langevin representing me. And also I live in the Ward of the town Counselman who is a Non Convicted Wife Beater. And to think I moved hear from Barrington. It is a good thing there is Fresh air and no stick of Kennedy. The only way to take back society from evil is to hit evil where it hurts. Personnaly destroy there credibility and embarass them in front of there Peers with the facts.

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at November 17, 2005 11:22 PM


I assume by your last sentence you are talking about exposing the incoherence and short-sightedness of the decisions made by certain politicians, not about engaging in Guy Dufault-like personal destruction campaigns, right?

Posted by: Andrew at November 18, 2005 10:23 AM


My point is to show the inconsistency with there message. Guy tell's lie's. If they were true then that would be and issue if he spoke on family values. Our Governor is a good honest man. Unlike the Democrats in the RI state house. And all four of our Representatives for the US congress and Senate.

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at November 20, 2005 9:12 PM