NATIONAL COALITION FORMS: GRASS-ROOTS GROUPS MOBILIZE TO STOP FEDERAL CENSORSHIP BILLS

By: Randy Lee Payton


A coalition of 20 grass-roots anti-censorship groups from around the country have joined together along with ROCK OUT CENSORSHIP in opposition to S.983, the so-called Pornography Victims Compensation Act. The proposed bill "threatens with prosecution the makers and distributors of books, magazines, records and video tapes, musicians, artists and galleries, even libraries," according to the recently formed National Coalition to Stop the Federal Censorship Laws.

The bill would enable victims of sex crimes to sue the makers, distributors, exhibitors and sellers of materials deemed "sexually explicit" if even a "partial" correlation between the crime and depictions within the material in question is established by the court.

Though stymied before their initial hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 23, their sponsors remain intent on pushing the bills (as the revamped S.983) when Congress returns from its August recess. Plus there's the danger that the bill may be attached as an amendment to another bill before Congress adjourns in the fall. Coalition supporters are being urged to "remain vigilant" by continuing to contact their representatives as to their opposition and getting the word out to the public as to the chilling effect this legislation would have on the music and arts community.

"Such correlation would of course be difficult for the courts to determine, but that's not the point of these bills," said Susan Gahagan of Western Pennsylvania Citizens Against Censorship (WPCAC), a founding group of the Coalition, speaking at a conference this past June in Chicago attended by representatives of anti-censorship groups from around the country. The conference was called by Rock & Roll Confidential, the national pro-rock industry newsletter.

At the conference, representatives of Rock Out Censorship joined with WPCAC to call for "a strong nationwide network of locally active groups throughout the U.S. to oppose these bills."

To this end, the two groups were joined by numerous organizations around the country in working to demonstrate opposition to the bill as they approached their initial hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee this past July 23rd.

"These bills are intended ultimately as 'nuisance bills' to aid 'dollar-to-death' lawsuits," Gahagan said. "These are lawsuits aimed at bankrupting the most vulnerable publishers, small record labels and distributors under the weight of legal cost in simply defending themselves in court."

The bills assume that "findings" of a "casual relationship between exposure to sexually explicit materials and...unlawful sexual acts" by the Meese Commission on pornography in 1986 are "factual." Critics point out, however, that such "findings" are far from generally accepted and are, in fact, the subject of professional and scholarly disagreement.

Nevertheless, the bills would not even require the alleged perpetrator of a sex crime to be convicted in a criminal trial before the victim could sue for civil damages; testimony by the alleged criminal that the material in question "caused" him to commit his crime would be sufficient evidence for a jury to award damages to the plaintiff.

Additionally, the standard six-year statute of limitations would be superseded by these bills: the material in question can be, for instance, a magazine the alleged offender read or a record he listened to as much as 15 years before the suit was even brought.

Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and have already picked up 7 Republican senators as co-sponsors: Dan Coats of Indiana, Slade Gorton of Washington, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, John McCain of Arizona, Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Thurmond and Grassley are members of the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE).

The Coalition's immediate suggested responses for individuals and groups that oppose the bills include writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, calling radio talk shows, calling press conferences to speak out against the bills and doing anything else that will raise public awareness of the bills and stop them in their tracks.

"It's particularly important at this time to let your Senators know your views on these bills," Gahagan said.

The groups that have joined ROCK OUT CENSORSHIP and WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA CITIZENS AGAINST CENSORSHIP in the Coalition include:

THE AVANT GARDE SOCIETY, San Francisco; CALIFORNIANS AGAINST CENSORSHIP TOGETHER; San Francisco; CENTRAL FLORIDIANS AGAINST CENSORSHIP; EIDOS MAGAZINE, Boston; FANS OF X-RATED ENTERTAINMENT, Hollywood, CA; FIGHT AGAINST CENSORSHIP TODAY, Chicago; FRIENDLY ANTI-CENSORSHIP TASK FORCE for STUDENTS, Athens, OH; FRANKFORT'S ALTERNATIVE INDEX, Frankfort, KS; FREE MUSIC COALITION, Philadelphia; KANSAS CITY COALITION AGAINST CENSORSHIP, Kansas City, MO; NATIONAL ORGANIZATION of SEXUAL ENTHUSIASTS, Atlanta; NO MORE CENSORSHIP DEFENSE FUND, San Francisco; NORTHWEST FEMINIST ANTI-CENSORSHIP TASK FORCE, Seattle; THE ORLANDO SPECTATOR, Apopka, FL; PARENTS FOR ROCK & RAP, Libertyville, IL; ROCK & ROLL CONFIDENTIAL, Los Angeles & New York; and THE WASHINGTON COALITION AGAINST CENSORSHIP, Seattle, WA.

A host of other professional & legal organizations are also opposing the bills, including the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION'S ARTS CENSORSHIP PROJECT, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RECORDING MERCHANDISERS, the RECORDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, the MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, THE MEDIA COALITION, Inc. and the VIDEO SOFTWARE DEALERS ASSOCIATION.

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