California assemblyman takes aim at entertainment industry

Wednesday, April 19, 2000

The entertainment industry needs to “think seriously” about the impact of television violence upon children, says California Assemblyman Peter Frusetta.

Last week, Frusetta introduced a resolution that “would urge the entertainment industry to think seriously about the impact that violence on television has on the healthy development of children.”

Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 156, introduced on April 11, cites studies from the National Coalition of Television Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics to emphasize what his resolution calls “an epidemic of violence” on television.

The resolution also says there is a correlation between violence on television and a “greater incidence of juvenile criminal activity.”

The measure would provide that the “Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the major television and entertainment companies.”

Free-speech expert Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, says that the resolution is constitutional. “The California Legislature is entitled to urge whatever it likes – as some have suggested, one possible response to speech that people think is bad is counterspeech, and it seems to me that the government as well as others may counter speak. Whether this is sound policy, I don’t know, but I think it’s constitutional.”

Even though the measure does not provide any direct government regulation, at least one free-speech expert says the introduction of the resolution could chill free expression in the entertainment industry.

“The very act of ‘urging’ serious thought about these issues, and transmitting copies of such a bill to the entertainment industry, would do more than simply offer guidance or express a legislative opinion,” said Robert O’Neil, founder of the Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. “Such action by government, even without sanctions or mandates, is bound to create fear and anxiety in some quarters, and generally to chill free expression throughout the entertainment industry.”

O’Neil questions other parts of the resolution’s text, including the statement that violence on television leads to an increase in violent juvenile crime. “The text (of the measure) seems to assume a correlation between violent entertainment and violent behavior, which remains uncertain and at best imprecise,” he said.

“While such a bill might reflect only the sense of the Legislature in year one, there is a distinct prospect that it could become the basis for regulatory action in year two,” O’Neil said.

Calls placed to Frusetta’s office were not returned.