I am on record as having generally applauded the Danish cartoon hubbub. I like to see false idols toppled, particularly since virtually all idols are false. However, so far as I can tell, "free speech" was never at issue there. The newspapers and magazines appeared to be always free to publish or not publish. Deciding against offending someone, for whatever reason, does not mean that you have been "censored," by which I mean: forcibly muffled (typically, by the state).
Andrew Sullivan, in an article called Hey Chef, these guys are killing free speech seems to think that this South Park vs. Scientology ruckus is an issue involving free speech.
And so we are back where we were with the Muhammad cartoons. Someone
somewhere won’t let you see the Scientology episode of South Park. You
can go to the Comedy Central website and view it on the internet — the
last refuge for free speech. But you won’t see it on television. In a
battle between satire and religion, although some deny that Scientology
deserves that moniker, religion wins again.
Take note. Whenever someone says "someone" in this sort of context, it’s because he has no argument. He is essentially claiming censorship of free speech. If so, then who, precisely, is carrying out the censorship and what, precisely, is potentially at risk for defiance?
Well, I loath sloppy, mush-brained thinking just as much as I loath fairy tales taken as literal truths. I also very much dislike diluting the meaning and import of concepts like "censorship." Just because someone refuses to furnish you a bullhorn, stage, and podium–or a television broadcast center–does not mean that they are depriving your of the freedom to speak. Speak all you want, but unless you can come to trading terms with others, you’ll have to finance your own means of getting your message out.
I know for sure that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker do not have a contract with Comedy Central which provides that they may broadcast anything they want, in spite of the wishes of Comedy Central. I also know for sure that as property of Viacom, Comedy Central has no particular dispensation that allows it to subordinate the wishes of Viacom to that of its own. Paramount Pictures, another Viacom property, is heavily invested in a new film by Tom Cruise, Scientologist. I’ve no idea what the agreement between Cruise’s production company and Paramount is on this Mission: Impossible III deal, but I’m sure that both parties have significant teeth that may be employed in a variety of ways. These are big-money deals with lots at stake.
If Cruise has the clout to motivate someone with whom he’s doing business to not insult and make fun of him over the airwaves, then why shouldn’t he use it? I would. You would.
This has nothing to do with free speech. Nothing. South Park’s creators are absolutely free to say anything they want, or to make cartoons of it. Everyone knows this. What they are not free to do is to use the property of others to distribute their message in ways and means that the owners of that property are not content to permit. It’s as simple as that, and everyone ought to be keeping their powder dry for the day when there’s real censorship to fight.