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Governor takes three steps against free speech interests

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   CALIFORNIA   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Oct. 13, 2005

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   CALIFORNIA   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Oct. 13, 2005


Governor takes three steps against free speech interests

  • Paparazzi and violent video games are the targets of new California laws signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also vetoed an inmate-access bill.

AP Photo/Max Whittaker

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a bill restricting sales of violent video games into law on Oct. 7 as Sacramento Girl Scouts look on.

Oct. 13, 2005  ·   California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law bills clamping down on paparazzi and violent video games while vetoing a bill that would have significantly broadened journalist access to prison inmates.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association opposed the anti-paparazzi bill, which changes existing law to triple the amount in damages that can be awarded in cases where assault is committed with the intent to capture any type of visual image. The association has pointed out that such behavior is already a criminal act, and greater damage awards create incentives for frivolous suits against all journalists.

Schwarzenegger vetoed two identical bills passed by the state Senate and Assembly in September that would have given greater media access to prison inmates. The bills are similar to legislation that has been repeatedly vetoed in California.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger wrote, “open access by the press is an important component of ensuring efficiency and effectiveness of government programs.” He described the current access for media as “wide” because of the right to interview random inmates during tours and specific inmates through the visitation program. Schwarzenegger continued “activities that would glamorize criminals at the expense of victims and the general public are unacceptable.”

Journalists have only been able to access inmates by being placed on visitation lists and competing with friends, family and clergy for limited visitation time, which was recently reduced, the press association reported in its legislative bulletin. The new law would have allowed the use of materials such as pens, pencils, paper and recording equipment, which current regulations do not permit.

Assemblyman Ray Haynes authored of one of the bills, and it is unknown if another member of the legislature will support a similar bill again. Others like it have been vetoed several times, said Malaki Seku-Amen, Haynes’ capitol director.

“This bill has been shot down by both Democratic and Republican governors,” Seku-Amen said.

To assuage concerns from victims, the bill required a warden or his or her designee to notify victims of inmates when interview requests were granted if the victims had specified that they would like to be notified, the press association reported.

“He [Haynes] was very careful in crafting this bill so there would be a balance in respect to the security of the institutions and freedom of the press,” Seku-Amen said.

Another bill Schwarzenegger signed to law raises First Amendment concerns because it restricts who can buy violent video games, bringing the government in as a content-regulator. The video game industry plans to challenge the law in court. Other states have attempted similar legislation, and courts have ruled such laws violate the First Amendment, said Katherine Fallow, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents a video game industry coalition.

The California law defines violent video games as “a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” The law makes it illegal to sell or rent violent video games to any person under the age of 18, with fines of up to $1,000 for people who do so.

“The definition is so vague that we believe it does not give sufficient notice to people about what kind of content will be prohibited,” Fallow said.

The coalition challenged a similar law in Washington state and a federal district court upheld the firm’s claims, striking down the law, Fallow said. Similar challenges are pending in Michigan and Illinois.

“By restricting the speech and using vague terms this law will create a significant chilling affect on protected speech,” Fallow said.

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