|The Bitter Truth - Commercial Speech and Public Relations|
A "Chilling Effect" is the detterent effect of legal threats or posturing on lawful conduct. The Nike Vs. Kasky case might have left such an effect on corporations in fear of incriminating themselves.
The Chilling Effect
Court's dismissal leaves fear in corporate hearts
So what happens now that all the burning questions were left unanswered? For the corporate world? Fear, perhaps. Trepidation. A certain unease to defend itself and to promote its social contributions. Does this hurt or protect the consumer? That answer is still up for debate, but one thing is clear in the eyes of the public relations, advertising and corporate communications fields: defending one's social or environmental reputation in the public arena could most certainly end up in litigation. And that fact may inhibit some potentially positive claims.
This is something often referred to as a “Chilling Effect:” the deterrent effect of legal threats or posturing on lawful conduct. The term more often referred to journalists who felt compelled to refrain from publishing controversial material for fear of potential lawsuits. This inhibition goes against the grain of the First Amendment and the notion of free speech by enabling a greater chance for self-censure, something our founding fathers sought to avoid.
Free press and its guarantees in America rose out of the struggle for independence and freedom from the stifling British government, who rigorously sought to control the press. Failure to adhere to the Crown's strict rules often resulted in severe punishment, causing journalists to self-censor themselves and keep certain controversial or damaging information from the public.
Hence the fear in the corporate public relations arena. Corporations may quite possibly now avoid making any claims or statements that could be challenged by a citizen who will have a more solid legal stance than the company.