When one thinks of the battle for freedom of expression we may not necessarily think of Hugh Hefner and his Playboy empire but that would be a mistake. Hugh Hefner has been promoting and fighting for First Amendment rights both within the pages of Playboy magazine and through the work of the HMH Foundation for years and this year marks the 36th year of the Hugh M Hefner Foundation’s First Amendment Awards.
Recently Progressive Lawyer spoke with Christie Hefner, former CEO Playboy Enterprises Inc. about the awards and the importance of recognizing First Amendment advocacy.
Progressive Lawyer: Playboy has always been a strong supporter of freedom of expression which may come as a surprise to some casual observers. Why does the foundation and magazine continue to engage in the freedom of expression debate?
Christie Hefner: From the very beginning of the magazine, Hef felt strongly that personal freedom and individual rights were the foundation of the magazine, and his editorial philosophy; and that no right was more fundamental that the 1st Amendment. As is clear every day, the fight to protect and enhance those rights is never ending.
PL: With Charlie Hebdo having kick started the debate over freedom of speech and what is considered “acceptable”, how do you define what is acceptable and what is not in a free speech debate? Is this even an issue?
CH: From the perspective of the magazine and the awards, it is a mistake to carve out types of ‘speech’ that may be hurtful or offensive and not offer them protection. As has been noted, it is precisely that kind of speech, i.e. the speech that is not supported by the majority, that is the most in need of constitutional protections. Our society is premised on the idea and ideal that the counter to ‘bad’ speech is not censorship, but more ‘speech.’
PL: How does the HMH foundation decide on its finalists and judges?
CH: The chairman of the Awards and the Executive Director of the Foundation have historically invited the judges. Those judges then select the winners, and present the awards. This year’s judges are:
Mike Hiestand, past winner, Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for organizing the Tinker Tour, the national free speech and civic education bus tour. Hiestand was the staff attorney for the nonprofit Student Press Law Center (SPLC), located just outside Washington, D.C., from 1991-2003, and worked full-time as the Center’s sole consulting attorney until 2012. He continues to assist student media and work with the SPLC on special projects affecting the student press community. Over the years, Hiestand has provided legal assistance to nearly 15,000 high school and college student journalists and their advisers.
Pamela Samuelson, Faculty Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law. She is recognized as a pioneer in digital copyright law, intellectual property, cyber law and information policy. Since 1996, she has held a joint appointment at Berkeley Law School and UC Berkeley’s School of Information. Samuelson is a director of the internationally renowned Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. She serves on the board of directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as on the advisory boards of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, for the Center for Democracy & Technology, Public Knowledge, and the Berkeley Center for New Media.
Ronald Brownstein, two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of presidential campaigns, and Atlantic Media’s Editorial Director for Strategic Partnerships, in charge of long-term editorial strategy. He also writes a weekly column and regularly contributes other pieces for the National Journal, contributes to Quartz, and The Atlantic, and coordinates political coverage and activities across publications produced by Atlantic Media. In addition, he currently serves as a senior political analyst for CNN and also served as an electoral analyst for ABC News during the 2012 election.
Prior to joining Atlantic Media, Brownstein was the National Affairs Columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
PL: When I look at past winners, I see a wide variety of activists. Do you get a lot a lot of nominations?
CH: Yes, the nominations are varied across fields and numerous, often coming from past winners. You can see a list of past winners here.
PL: What else does the HMH Foundation do to promote First Amendment rights?
CH: The HMH Foundation has provided funding for organizations working on behalf of 1st Amendment rights such as the American Civil Liberties’ Union, People for the American Way and the Student Press Law Center.
PL: Any chance that the Foundation adds an international category?
CH: Not at this time. There are ample important issues and individuals to be honored in the U.S.; and, of course, we, uniquely have a First Amendments.
PL: When will the 2015 winners be announced?
CH: A press reception with the judges and winners will be held this Fall in Los Angeles, to honor and present the winners with a $5,000 cash prize and a commemorative plaque.
PL: Thank you for your time Christie. More information on the HMH Foundation can be found here. A big thank you to Tracy Mallozzi for her assistance in putting this together.