Although employees are often regarded as the greatest asset of an organization, there are instances where they can be perceived as a nuisance, especially when they reveal sensitive information that may cause embarrassment for the organization. This is why many organizations have established policies that forbid employees to reveal any information that may result in a scandal especially when dealing with media reporters. Nevertheless, this has caused a conflict between employees and employers considering that many employees perceive these policies as an infringement of their own freedom of speech. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives citizens the right to express themselves and, therefore, government institutions should not meddle with the freedom of speech of employees (Budd para 2). Gagging employees is therefore unjustified, especially when it concerns an issue that affects the public as a whole.
Any policy that interferes with the right of a person to speak regarding a public matter that is considered unconstitutional (Student Press Law Center para 7). Judges often attempt to sugar coat a gag order by describing it as a protective order yet they deem it as indispensable to protect the right of an individual to a just trial and the inviolability of jury deliberations. Nevertheless, gag orders are still a form of restraint which prevent witnesses and lawyers alike to speak to the press. A gag order will thus remain a gag order considering that it interferes with the efforts of an individual to send out some information (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press para 1-3). Even though the city attorney viewed the policy as important in avoiding any mortification on behalf of the city, it still acts against the freedom of expression and nobody should be prohibited from expressing themselves, not even employees.
The protest carried out by information officers and heads of department was genuine because besides protecting their freedom of speech they were also carrying out part of their daily duties, which involved giving their side of the story to the media. Information officers are supposed to disseminate information on behalf of the institution that employs them and, hence, preventing them from doing so is not fair. Furthermore, given that any restraint on freedom of expression threatens the foundation of the United States constitution, which is founded on democratic principles, it is imperative for both sides of the story to be heard (Democracy Web para 11). Prohibiting officers who directly deal with the media from talking or expressing themselves inevitably affects the press. News entity information officers ought to make an effort to oppose gagging orders on the basis that they erode the First Amendment rights in the long run (Gauthier para 1).
Moreover, the policy not only violates freedom of expression but also the right of the public to receive information concerning their government. As long as information officers are prevented from speaking to the press, the public is likewise prevented from obtaining a reliable source of information. Despite the fact that restraints on sources of information like the information officers may not seem offensive in comparison to restraints on media organizations, it still constricts the information flow to the general public (Gauthier para 4). The order thus violates the right of the public to information because any attempt by the media to gather information from potential sources is always highly limited. During the 18th century in colonial America, the freedom of speech was regarded as a form of protection against a tyrannical government (Germani para 4). The First Amendment of the Constitution was intended to prevent the rise of such a government and create a society where the public could obtain access to pertinent information that affected them without limitations. This amounts to regarding everything that contradicts the First Amendment, as unconstitutional, including prohibiting the public from exercising their right to information.
Essentially, it does not really matter who issues the directives to prevent employees from giving information to the press because it is still an act that is in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which emphasizes on the freedom of speech. City or district attorneys are expected to protect the rights of the citizenry including those of employees as opposed to infringing or perpetuating infringement on their constitutional rights. Gagging employees should not be translated as a protective order because it ultimately violates the freedom of speech and any country that is built upon the principles of democracy will uphold and value the freedom of speech for every citizen which also includes respecting and supporting sources that are used in disseminating information to the public such as the press. Gagging employees who desire to give their own side of the story is unjust as it prevents the public from accessing information concerning how the government works and so forth.
Furthermore, under such circumstances, the press tends to be constrained from obtaining important information from the gagged employees who act as potential sources making it more difficult to reveal the truth about the government activities. Therefore, violation of freedom of speech is not limited to infringing on an individual’s constitutional right but also touches on aspects of the right of the public to information and erodes the values of democracy as well as freedom in general. Suppressing the freedom of people by establishing gagging policies is thus incompatible with the First Amendment of the Constitution, and fails to protect citizens. In fact as Lomonte (para 54) states, rigid limitations on information sharing and dissemination between the media and public cannot be legally implemented. Gagging employees is therefore more harmful considering the massive impact it has on the society at large.
Budd, John. Employee Free Speech: Protection Needed in the Social Networking World, and in the Real World”. 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2013 <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/jbudd/whitherwork/2012/05/employee-free-speech-protections-needed-in-the-social-networking-world-and-in-the-real-world.html>
Democracy Web. “Freedom of Expression: History”. n.d. Retrieved 12 November 2013 <http://www.democracyweb.org/expression/history.php>
Gauthier, Ashley. “Gag orders and effect on Newsgathering”. n.d. Retrieved 12 November 2013 < http://www.rcfp.org/secret-justice-gag-orders/gag-orders-and-effect-newsgathering>
Germani, Steve. “Freedom of Speech”. n.d. Retrieved 12 November 2013 <http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper28.html>
Lomonte, Frank. “Winter 2013-Legal Analysis vol.XXXIV,No.1”. n.d. Retrieved 12 November 2013 <http://www.splc.org/news/report_detail.asp?id=1667&edition=60>
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press “Introduction-What to do if a court issues a gag order”. n.d. Retrieved 12 November 2013 <http://www.rcfp.org/first-amendment-handbook/introduction-what-do-if-court-issues-gag-order>