The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press lauded the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday that declared a California law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors is an unconstitutional limit on freedom of speech.
“Time and again, from the early days of radio and television, to 10-cent comic books and now to video games, lawmakers have tried to limit speech for what they believe to be the public good. And each time, they have lost because the First Amendment will not tolerate such wholesale limitations on expression merely because someone has created a new mode of communication,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The majority decision ensures that violent content in any medium, including content produced by news outlets, will not come under the same censorship.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Atonin Scalia noted that California’s attempt “to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children” is both “unprecedented and mistaken.” Further, noting that video games communicate ideas that confer them with First Amendment protection, Scalia wrote that the basic principles of free speech and press are still valid “when a new and different medium for communication appears.”
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia M. Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Scalia in the majority opinion affirming a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.). Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., filed a concurring opinion. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the video gaming industry in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. It argued that the state of California’s 2005 law prohibiting the sale or rental of a “violent video game” to a minor was unconstitutionally overbroad in its restriction of expression. The brief noted that a “broad restriction of expression is an inappropriate means of addressing an overstated problem.” Pointing out that “protests against violent speech often come after it appears in new media or methods of communication, such as videogames, comic books, theater, film, and music,” the Reporters Committee noted that over time, “the protests inevitably die down, with the alleged harms never having come to pass.”
The American Society of News Editors, the First Amendment Project, the National Press Photographers Association, the Radio-Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center joined the Reporters Committee brief.
Founded in 1970 to combat an increase in subpoenas seeking reporters' confidential sources, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press now offers a broad variety of legal services to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail.
In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee sets up special event reporters' hotlines, submits amicus briefs and statements of support on media law issues, and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists year-round. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.