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Press groups urge protection of animal cruelty coverage

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal statute that criminalizes the possession, creation or sale of a wide variety of depictions involving animals. The Reporters Committee filed the brief on behalf of itself and 13 media organizations.

The case, U.S. v. Stevens, involves a statute which makes it a felony to create, sell or possess “a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain.” Congress passed the law in order to prohibit  “crush videos," a type of fetish pornography involving the death of animals. But the reach of the law is far broader, and the government asked the Supreme Court to rule that depictions of animal cruelty are without value and thus entirely unprotected by the First Amendment. It also claimed that Congress may categorically ban any speech it wishes, as long as the government’s interest suppression outweighs the value of the speech.

Though the press groups agreed that the “goal of preventing crush videos and other animal cruelty is certainly a worthy one,” they argued that it “is this very interest in protecting animals from abuse that makes speech about their treatment so valuable.” Media outlets “often expose the abuse of animals, participate in the national debate over the proper treatment of them, and cover commonplace activities involving animals such as hunting and fishing,” the brief said. But the law “compromises the news media’s ability to perform any of these functions without fear of prosecution.”