Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Friday, October 14, 2005

media and society

-- media and society -- demagogue's safety act of 2005 Studios: Child porn bill is too sweeping By Jube Shiver Jr. Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 13, 2005

Hollywood lobbyists are warning federal lawmakers that proposed anti-child pornography legislation could prove so onerous for studios that they may be forced to keep detailed records about actors appearing in virtually any lovemaking scene, even for movies rated PG-13.

A little-noticed rider from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to the Children's Safety Act of 2005 passed by the House would require producers of material containing actual or simulated sexual conduct to keep records of the names, ages and proof of identification of the actors shown in the productions. They also would have to make the information available to law enforcement officials upon request. Lobbyists argue that the measure's sweeping language goes beyond the intended target — pornography — and encompasses more tame fare. "We are extremely concerned that this measure is overly broad and violates the constitutional protections of free speech," said Erik V. Huey, a Washington lawyer for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. "Mainstream film and television productions are being lumped in the same category as hard-core pornography."


For some reason -- perhaps because it's politic to do so -- mainstream film and television producers are concerned that they're being unintentionally included in this act. At least, that's what they're saying. Given the fuss that was made at the time this act was drafted -- and there was a certain amount of press at the time -- that the language was too expansive, it's clear that, to the extent that the act discusses any sort of sexual depictions, mainstream Hollywood isn't the unintended target; they're the principal target.

Buried clause could tag films, TV shows as porn
By Brooks Boliek
Hollywood Reporter
October 12, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Tucked deep inside a massive bill designed to track sex offenders and prevent children from being victimized by sex crimes is language that could put many Hollywood movies in the same category as hard-core, X-rated films. The provision added to the Children's Safety Act of 2005 would require any film, TV show or digital image that contains a sex scene to come under the same government filing requirements that adult films must meet.

Currently, any filmed sexual activity requires an affidavit that lists the names and ages of the actors who engage in the act. The film is required to have a video label that claims compliance with the law and lists where the custodian of the records can be found. The record-keeping requirement is known as Section 2257, for its citation in federal law. Violators could spend five years in jail. Under the provision inserted into the Children's Safety Act, the definition of sexual activity is expanded to include simulated sex acts like those that appear in many movies and TV shows. [...] Industry officials contend that the way the provision is written, a sex scene could trigger the provision even if the actors were clothed. While the language is designed to capture "lascivious exhibition of the genitals," other legal decisions have said that "lascivious exhibition" could occur when the genitals are covered. The bill, with the Section 2257 provision included, already has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and is waiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Industry executives worry that the provision, which is retroactive to 1995, will have a chilling effect on filmmakers. Faced with the choice of filing a 2257 certificate or editing out a scene, a filmmaker might decide it's not worth getting entangled with the federal government and let the scene fall to the cutting-room floor, the executives said....

And THAT is almost certainly the real reason for the expansion of the act. The House is trying to target mainstream television and film by lumping all sexual depictions into the same category. The government is trying to create the chilling effect. The bluenoses in the House feel that there's too much sex on telly, therefore they will produce a regulation that is so burdensome to the studios, and produces such unpleasant associations, that they decide to tone down the content. If Congress is successful in this attempt, they'll shove television and film back to those halcyon days of Beaver Cleaver, when Mom and Dad slept in twin beds, only kissed on the cheek, were virtuously married and nobody had any sex anywhere ever because babies came from the stork.

The reason that it looks like the target is mainstream Hollywood and not porn producers? First, most commercial porn producers already keep the sorts of records that this act requires. There will be a bit of additional paperwork, but onl the whole, for most porn producers, this is just going to be a major nuisance more than anything else.

And then there's this, from that same Hollywood Reporter article:

...In 1988, a similar provision was ruled unconstitutional by the federal court here. Congress later rewrote it so that it included only actual sex acts, not the pretend acts in movies and TV shows....

Similar language has already been ruled overbroad in similar laws. Congress has to know that this will be struck down. Yet they keep trying, because it makes them look Tough on Porn! Tough on Crime! and that plays at election time.

This law will, of course, pass. And it will, of course, be appealed. And it is very likely that the law will be struck down as it applies to nonpornographic works.

But still, wouldn't it be nice if we could get legislators mature enough to avoid this kind of stupidity?

Posted by iain at 02:33 PM in category media and society