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First Amendment Experts See Defects in TV Violence Bills;
Congress Urged to Abandon Constitutionally Flawed Proposals
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 1994
WASHINGTON -- Approximately 50 of the country's most noted
constitutional experts, taking issue with Attorney General Janet Reno,
FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and several prominent members of Congress, said
today that the legislative proposals to regulate televised violence run
afoul of the First Amendment's free speech protections.
In a letter sent today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the
experts -- constitutional law professors and legal scholars from
America's most respected law schools and institutions -- urged Senators
Paul Simon and Ernest Hollings to abandon their unconstitutional efforts
to regulate television violence.
"Despite the apparent agreement by the networks and cable companies
to some form of advisories and monitoring, efforts to curb television
violence by legislation or FCC regulation are almost certain to
continue," said Robert Peck, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "This letter
indicates the uniformity of opinion by those most schooled in First
Amendment law that these efforts are unconstitutional."
In their letter to the Senators, which was also distributed today to
members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the scholars said that rather
than enact content regulation, constitutionally unintrusive means -- such
as lock boxes and similar devices -- already exist to give parents more
control over what programs their children watch.
Signatories to the letter include some of the country's most
respected constitutional scholars, such as Gerald Gunther of Stanford Law
School, William Van Alstyne of Duke Law School and Alan Dershowitz of
Harvard Law School. Their view provides an ideologically balanced strong
contrast to the opinions expressed by Attorney General Reno.
Reno has relied on a Supreme Court case involving indecent speech
broadcast over radio as the basis for her opinion on the bills. The
experts disagreed, however. "In our view, the Attorney General's recent
declaration that these bills were constitutionally sound cannot be
squared with relevant case law and constitutional principles," the
scholars said. "We urge that Congress not act on such constitutionally
"All three bills raise serious constitutional issues that, in our
view, have not received the careful and deliberative study that they
deserve," the letter continued. "They involve a content and viewpoint
bias that cannot be reconciled with the Constitution or prior precedent
in the broadcasting field."
The professors and scholars said although "none of us would be called
advocates of violent television programs, we believe that First Amendment
rights of viewers and broadcasters would be abridged by limits on the
editorial discretion of this branch of the mass media."
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