ACLU Says "Rating Entertainment Ratings" Issue for Concern; Congress Bad Substitute for Parental Judgment

July 25, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying parents should have the ultimate control over what children are exposed to, the ACLU today told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that its “rating of entertainment ratings” raises serious constitutional and practical questions.

“For years now the government has been trying to coerce the entertainment industry into stifling its own speech,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This hearing is just another inning in this overtime game.”

The ACLU’s comments came in response to a hearing today by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the “voluntary” ratings scheme that the industry adopted five years ago.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required the FCC to set down guidelines for the labeling of sexual, violent or mature materials that would have the force of law unless the entertainment industry agreed to a system of self-imposed labeling. Today’s hearing threatens to exacerbate the limitations on free expression implemented by this rating scheme, the ACLU said.

“The rating systems ‘voluntarily’ adopted in 1996 weren’t so much about letting parents know what children were watching, they were an attempt by the government to sterilize television, movies, music and video games,” Johnson said. “A mini-series of great value like Roots would be a harder sell today because of advertisers’ unwillingness to buy time during a mature rated show.”

The ACLU has long argued that the only constitutionally viable way for the entertainment industry to enjoy its constitutional protections is for the government to leave the decision of what the child is exposed to up to the parents.

“Parents, not Washington, should monitor what children see, read, hear or play,” Johnson said. “Further government regulation would amount to nothing more than the creation of a Public Taste Patrol that would try and graft the sensibilities of the few onto everyone.”

“This hearing and most of the media violence legislation in Congress should give pause to parents who believe that their families should have the ultimate say on what their kids watch,” Johnson concluded.

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