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'Speaking Freely' — new season begins

Guests include Susan Sarandon, Charlie Daniels, Norman Lear, Oliver Stone, Walter Bernstein, Russell Simmons


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  • Current show list
  • "Speaking Freely," the weekly television program about free expression and the arts, begins a new season this fall on public television stations throughout the country.

    The new season includes more than 30 new episodes with artists who have used their creativity and voice to make a difference. From Hip Hop founder Russell Simmons to blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein, the series offers firsthand insight into the trials and triumphs of speaking freely in America.

    Today more than ever, Americans need to remember that the First Amendment protects far more than press rights or political speech. It also protects free expression and the arts — a potent combination.

    shim Kenneth A. Paulson
    Kenneth A. Paulson, senior vice president of The Freedom Forum and executive director of the First Amendment Center.

    "This is a show that truly reflects the marketplace of ideas: It can entertain, educate, inform and even inspire. You’ll find free speech at is most vibrant on 'Speaking Freely.'" — Ken Paulson, host of “Speaking Freely.”

    The new season premieres with Academy Award-winning actress and civic activist Susan Sarandon. Her film career has been marked by creative challenges to the status quo in movies that include “Dead Men Walking” and “Thelma and Louise.” Her personal activism began with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests, and has included efforts to highlight the conditions of Haitian refuges and participation in protests in New York City against police brutality.

    Asked why some art, plays or film provoke fearful reactions from the American public, Sarandon said that people "should fear art, should fear film, should fear theater. This is where ideas happen. This is where somebody goes into a dark room and starts to watch something and their perspective can be completely questioned ... the very seeds of activism are empathy and imagination."

    Susan Sarandon with Michael Catalano, center, and Ken Paulson.

    Several featured guests have used their music to make a statement — among them Charlie Daniels, Richie Havens, Ray Stevens and Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals. As Daniels notes, amid controversy over some of his songs, "I'm a songwriter. Journalists say no topic's off-limits for them; why should it be off-limits to me?"

    A number of shows in the new season were taped on location at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., including a lively discussion on censorship on television and in the movies with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park. The new season also features a two-part episode with director, producer and comic David Steinberg.

  • See current show list.

  • Let us know your thoughts!

    Send us your observations and guest suggestions for "Speaking Freely."

    Check PBS online ... see if "Speaking Freely" is on the schedule in your area. If not, let them know that the series is available to them free of charge.

    "Speaking Freely" is ideal programming for stations in markets with strong communities of the arts and artists; communities where the arts and ideas are important to viewers; communities that value the individual and believe the right of free expression is more than an empty promise.

    PBS stations: "Speaking Freely" is produced by the First Amendment Center and fed weekly free of charge by Executive Program Services. For more information on programming "Speaking Freely," contact Alan Foster at For general information, contact Jenny Atkinson at 615/727-1600 or

    Talking about freedom: guests on 'Speaking Freely'

    "The First Amendment is an issue where troops have to be deployed on the front lines, and we have to have the push and pull of this debate continuously. It's not gonna go away ... . We can't have government officials determining for us what is art and what is not art." — Actor William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition

    "Censorship from the right is to be expected. Censorship from the left caught me by surprise. And I’m talking about what started out as campus speech codes on college campuses and is now known as 'politically correct' language." — Comedian George Carlin

    "We’re going to politically correct ourselves into the grave here. We literally are. We’re so — we’re so concerned with being politically correct, and political correctness, to a big part, is basically semantics. It has no underpinning." — Singer-songwriter Charlie Daniels on the controversy behind his song, "This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag"

    "I think dissident speech is not valued in our nation, whether it comes from ... rich white men or poor white men. I think the real issue is: We are in danger as a nation of silencing any form of speech that goes against what is perceived to be the status quo." — Author bell hooks

    "[It was not so safe] that there wasn't a department of censor that was looking at every single word, but safe in terms of the American people ... . If the American people were let alone by the establishment — they're far more grown-up. They've always been taken by the establishment to be far less grown-up, far less wise-hearted, than they really are. And I have to believe that CBS, even though it signed off on the show, felt positively about the show, had to gird itself for the night that it went on the air ... . Most of them wasted their time. There just wasn't a big fallout." — Producer Norman Lear on the premiere of "All in the Family"

    "(After the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King) somebody’s got to stand up and say, 'Hey, you know what? Pay attention' ... I just felt driven to say something and the record company did not agree with me. They said, 'This is not your business. You’re not a politician. You’re supposed to make money for us. That is your purpose in life.' I said, 'I don’t think so.'" — Musician Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on his hit, "People Got to be Free"

    Art makes headlines, too
    For centuries, artists and musicians have balanced on the cutting edge of social issues. Their words, sounds and images protest the status quo, offend the conventional, speak the unspoken. They force us to face things we'd prefer to ignore.

    That's the thrust of "Speaking Freely," a weekly, half-hour television program spotlighting freedom of expression issues in the arts through guest performances and presentations that set the programs apart.

    On each program, leading personalities from the world of art and culture share stories of personal encounters with censorship and the ways in which such encounters affect life, art and the larger society.

    Why a show devoted exclusively to free expression and the arts?
    While the 45 words of the First Amendment have gone unchanged since their adoption, unchanged does not mean unchallenged.

    Americans largely respect the First Amendment as an ideal but are ambivalent when it protects offensive ideas or controversial art.

    "Speaking Freely" reminds us of the importance of preserving free expression in art, music, theater and literature.

    The First Amendment Center can supply promotional materials, print listings and media-relations support to place news stories about "Speaking Freely" in national and local media outlets.

    Previous guests on 'Speaking Freely'
    "Many people think that taking a stand on social and human issues is the unpopular thing to do." — Harry Belafonte, actor
    Harry Belafonte
    Nat Hentoff "Most people — kids, adults, even law students sometimes — don't know their own rights and liberties. So they're indifferent or hostile to other people's." — Nat Hentoff, author and columnist
    "I've always felt that ideas are not dangerous. It's the repression of those ideas that's dangerous. Ideas in themselves should not threaten anyone."
    — Andres Serrano, visual artist
    Andres Serrano
    Jane Alexander "The greatness of our democracy is the difference of opinion and the ability to voice it freely." — Jane Alexander, actress and former NEA chair
    "Without free speech, this country is no different from any dictatorship."
    — Janis Ian, singer and songwriter
    Janis Ian
    Ossie Davis "The arts for the black community were always a forum for our politics, our protests." — Ossie Davis, actor
    The First Amendment "is the finest defense of personal freedom that has ever taken place." — David Crosby, singer and songwriter David Crosby

    The art of speaking freely is the beauty of democracy.


    Johnny Cash receives 2002 'Spirit of Americana' free-speech award
    News release First Amendment Center, Americana Music Association honor legendary performer for lifelong commitment to free expression in music.  09.16.02

    Musician Steve Earle drums up controversy
    Critics say song 'John Walker's Blues' glorifies Lindh, but singer-songwriter says 'I don't condone what he did.'  07.24.02

    Panelists: Comics Code out of step with current trends
    Publisher says rules governing comic book content are antiquated leftovers from McCarthyism.  10.10.01

    Music helps bridge troubled waters, 'Speaking Freely' singers say
    'Songs give a great deal of hope to people,' Judy Collins notes; Jacki DeShannon sees them nourishing souls.  10.04.01

    Cat never got Kitt's tongue
    Free expression was, and still is, at top of performer’s agenda as she proves during 'Speaking Freely' taping.  09.27.01

    Don't torpedo dissent in aftermath of attacks, Donahue urges
    ‘What we need is more free speech, more robust dialogue,’ talk-show icon tells audience at ‘Speaking Freely’ taping.  09.26.01

    Robert Redford: Protecting free expression by giving voice to the voiceless
    Actor, director, activist receives 2001 Freedom in Film award for commitment to movies that promote change and advocacy for independent filmmakers.  06.04.01

    Civil rights made news, and vice versa
    David Halberstam, John Seigenthaler recount how TV news especially, despite attacks against journalists, awoke the nation to the meaning of the Freedom Rides.  05.31.01

    Political satire dying out, Tom Smothers says
    Comedian calls raising questions about government ‘one of the best reasons for the First Amendment.’  05.30.01

    Chuck D. talks of hype and hope
    ‘Record companies are selling black existence that is unbalanced,’ says Public Enemy frontman in ‘Speaking Freely’ session.  05.22.01

    Edward Albee — always uncensored
    ‘If everybody likes what you’ve done, you should ask, ‘What have I done wrong?’ ’ playwright says during ‘Speaking Freely’ interview.  05.21.01

    Choreographer dances between artistic truth, audience acceptance
    Bill T. Jones describes artistic challenges in 'Whitney Dialogue' program for 'Speaking Freely' TV taping.  05.10.01

    Artist Hans Haacke: Museums afraid of me
    Conceptual artist discusses perils of free expression in an age of easily offended public.  03.01.01

    Catholic League president calls controversial Christ photo 'morally objectionable'
    'Everybody has a right to do what they want to do,' replies 'Yo Mama' artist during spirited debate.  02.21.01

    Art is her way around obstacles
    At age 85, Elizabeth Catlett still makes messages about life as a black female artist.  06.22.00

    Singer-songwriter Janis Ian faces controversy because her songs deal with society's issues
    Grammy-winning musician considers herself a staunch supporter of First Amendment rights, in large part because of her early experiences.  06.20.00

    Jane Alexander still fighting for controversy in the arts
    'Artists create art but they don't create it in a vacuum,' says actress, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts.  06.07.00