ACLU Expresses Serious Reservations With Legislation To Give Government Regulatory Power Over Entertainment Industry

April 26, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized newly proposed legislation that would give the government enhanced regulatory power over the entertainment industry, calling it a serious threat to America’s constitutional freedoms and to the right of parents to control what their children are exposed to.

“At the end of the day, parents must have the ultimate say in what children see, hear, and read,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “If allowed to become law, this bill would place such a responsibility in the hands of Congress and the Executive Branch. The government must not be turned into a dormitory matron policing America’s choice of entertainment.”

The proposed legislation, announced this morning by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), would give government the power to prosecute members of the entertainment industry who market mature-oriented material to children. The bill would expand the power of the Federal Trade Commission, allowing it to impose heavy fines on entertainment companies allegedly attempting to market mature-oriented material to children by using “false and deceptive advertising practices.”

The implications of this bill, Johnson said, would entail having the FTC pass judgment on advertisements based upon highly subjective criteria. “By giving the context of an ad greater import than its content – which invariably contains a parental warning that the material is inappropriate – Senator Lieberman would force the FTC to deem something false and deceptive that is, in reality, entirely truthful. As silly and scary as it sounds, the FTC would become a strange sort of lie-detector,” Johnson said.

The proposed legislation came in response to recent findings by the FTC that, while significant improvements had been made in the industry’s self-regulation, certain types of mature-oriented material were still being marketed to children. The ACLU pointed out, however, that Robert Pitofsky, Chairman of the FTC, described these findings as only a “snapshot of advertising practices” that cannot be “statistically projected to industry advertising as a whole.”

The ACLU reiterated its longstanding view that the parent must have the ultimate say over what a child can be exposed to.

“This is more than just an inaccessible debate in legalese over free speech, it is about parents’ control over their children,” Johnson said. “As soon as the government steps in with the power to go after the entertainment industry in such an arbitrary way, the whole of American culture would have to be filtered through a Beltway-colored lens.”

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