Publishers, Writers Warn Against Censors
Calvin Reid -- 12/4/00

Disturbed by presidential campaign rhetoric and ongoing congressional initiatives to address media violence, seven of the country's preeminent publishing and writing organizations have issued a joint warning against the dangers of government censorship.

The statement was released by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society for Journalists and Authors, the Association of American University Presses, the Authors Guild, the Freedom to Read Foundation and PEN American Center.

The statement cites, in particular, congressional threats that the media "clean up their act," and proposals calling for "direct government regulation" and "self-censorship or labeling" to curb violent portrayals in films, television, music and video games. The statement also points to similar threats to censor content on the Internet and warns that these "proposed cures are worse than the illness" and would erode "our fundamental guarantees of free expression."

The statement lists six "fundamental precepts of free expression" that "apply equally to all media of expression." These principles challenge claims that the entertainment media cause violence. They also assert that the First Amendment protects the widest possible range of expression; that "good" or "bad" speech is subjective and it is not the government's role to so determine; and that individuals bear the responsibility to determine what is appropriate for themselves and their families.

Judy Platt, a spokesperson for AAP, told PW that the statement is a revised version of an in-house paper released a year ago by the association's Freedom to Read Committee during "a similar congressional atmosphere calling for labeling and the V-chip." She noted that book publishers, generally unscrutinized by Congress on this issue, are wary that the growing audiobook market will come under attack. Platt also said the Federal Trade Commission's recent report on marketing violent media to children, Senate hearings on the issue and recent discussions in Congress to establish a universal ratings system (a bill sponsored by Senators John McCain and J Lieberman) prompted the organizations to act.

"This time," said Platt, "the statement is from the entire book industry. Is Private Ryan good violence? Is The Matrix bad violence? Who wants the government deciding this?" she said. Platt noted that there would be further public statements from the organizations on the dangers of government censorship once the controversy over the presidential election has been resolved.