December 1, 2005

Gay Rights Billboards Censored

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 12:39 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?

“A company that owns nearly every rentable billboard in the state of Georgia along the interstates has refused to rent billboards to Georgia Equality because of the billboards’ content,” writes GayOrbit. “It’s a standard based on discrimination. The purpose of Georgia Equality’s advertising campaign is to change those standards. So, when Mr. Locke, of Lamar Outdoor Advertising, tells you the signs are not up to community standards, what he is telling you is that he doesn’t want those standards to change.”

(Via Alternet’s Peek, via GayOrbit, via

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Who’s in Control? Who Ought to Be?

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 12:09 pm
Filed under: Indecency

The TV Watch coalition — a group advocating for parental responsibility over government intrusion — recently held a panel discussion on the current climate in Hollywood. (Recent article about TV Watch from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.)

Here’s a synopsis from USA Today:

Producer Jonathan Prince (American Dreams) urged Hollywood to police itself to avoid the wrath of special-interest groups that want to curb what they view as inappropriate programming. “Sometimes I think we as writers … are cavalier about the responsibility,” he told critics Friday at a panel organized by TV Watch, a new coalition of interest groups seeking to stave off government regulation by urging parents to use TV’s ratings system.

“Part of the problem lies in our lack of moderating of our own behavior (and) writing, in order to shock the audience” and stoke controversy. “People get buzz, the network gets ratings, and so what if we have to pay fines, and a couple of loonies who are complaining have to be attended to?”

But West Wing’s Richard Schiff blamed his overreacting studio. Schiff complained that his character is being “phased out” after a few episodes this season partly because studio owner Time Warner is a “corporate shadow (that’s) constantly suppressing and regulating and watching over” the political drama and especially Schiff’s role as communications director Toby, “who is somewhat conscience-driven and dynamic in his opinions. There is pressure to relieve him of his voice.”

SpeakSpeak has been a member of the TV Watch coalition since the coalition’s inception. Or conception. Or both. I take issue, however, with Prince’s notion of where responsibility lies.

No doubt Brent Bozell would agree with Prince’s assertion that Hollywood writers like to shock their audience just for the hell of it. No doubt the Parents Television Council would extend Prince’s argument to the Bozellian-logic conclusion: Hollywood is to blame.

But Prince (or, to be fair, maybe it was historically PTC-friendly USA Today) misses two important points.

First, it’s impossible to separate Hollywood’s bottom line from an examination of Hollywood scripts. Make no mistake — entertainment is a profit-seeking business. To mix a couple of metaphors, television networks push the proverbial envelope only as far as they think their viewers are willing to follow it. Richard Schiff, a.k.a. The West Wing’s erudite leftie Toby Ziegler, comes closer to making that point. Is his character being slowly exterminated by a corporate parent leery of alienating the political mainstream? That would be a shame, but it also makes for a perfectly plausible political reality.

Second, controlling what kids are exposed to — and that’s the point, here, isn’t it? — is solely the responsibility of the parent. Not Hollywood writers. Not the government. Not Time Warner.

Parenting remains a parental responsibility. Sadly, we must fight to make that point.

Do your part in three simple steps.

First (and second), fight back against the Parents Television Council’s attempts to turn the FCC into our nation’s de facto censorship board — and over-protective mommy.

Finally, head over to the TV Watch website and sign their petition urging parental responsibility, not government regulation.

The fight can’t be won unless you speak up.


A “Current” Affair

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 11:27 am
Filed under: TV

As Eric Jaffa pointed out, today is the first day of broadcast for CurrentTV, the independent network invented by Al Gore.

The buzz has been mixed. Many people, like Eric, are excited about the prospect of “viewer created” TV. Others, like BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis, seem to be a bit nervous about which path the somewhat free-form network may tread. (Jarvis visited the home page and was treated to a Deepak Chopra spread. “Can Yanni be far behind?” he asks.)

I visited Current’s site to determine whether my provider is carrying the network. (DishNetwork’s website was characteristically useless when it came to answering the question.)

Alas, no Deepak for me. Instead, I was given an introduction to “Current hottie” Fatma D’abo’s butt. That’s right, her butt. Oh — and her fetching face, too, which was labeled “the face behind the behind.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really want Current TV to take off. More than that, I want it to be good. I’d like to watch Current, but more than that, I want to like Current. I like hotties. I like hotties’ butts. I hate CNN. Sign me up!

But, do I get Current? That’s the question. I don’t know, so I head to the “Do I Get Current?” feature of the web page….

Step 1: Enter my zip code? Sure! Easy enough. Click continue? Okay!

Step 2: Find my cable provider on the handy drop down menu? No problem! Thanks for making this so easy, Current! Click continue? Absolutely!

Step 3a: Please provide the following information: First name, last name, address, phone numbers, email, birth year.

What the… ?

Step 3b: Check the following boxes.
I’d like to have my information shared with my cable operator.
I’d like to receive email information about CURRENT.
I’d like to receive information about digital cable and cable modem.

Holy privacy invasion, Batman!

Turns out I don’t want to watch Current that bad, and now I’m a little bit less determined to like it.

Inauspicious beginning, guys. Best of luck to you.

Update: By the way, BC Beat (the blog of Broadcasting & Cable magazine) is keeping a running tab on Current’s launch.


Action Alert: PTC Fires Up Complaint Machine

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 11:00 am
Filed under: Action, PTC

They took a break, but the PTC complainers are back in action.

Speak up now!



Crying Over Spilled “Hot Coffee”

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 10:34 am
Filed under: Video Games

It was only a matter of time, and the time has come.

The developer of Grand Theft Auto, Take Two Interactive Software, has been named in at least two class action lawsuits by angry parents and guardians. A refresher: It was recently revealed that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contains a secret interactive sex scene, accessible only to those who hunt down and apply the “Hot Coffee” hack.

Take Two disclosed the lawsuits in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

One of the suits was filed by 85-year-old grandmother “on behalf of consumers nationwide.” (Thanks, granny!) The grandmother claims she bought the game for her 14-year-old grandson not knowing that it contained (hidden) sex scenes. Apparently, she had no problem with the (not hidden) graphic violence that is the very point of the game.


[Florence Cohen] sought unspecified damages on behalf of herself and all consumers nationwide, saying the company should give up its profits from the game for what amounted to false advertising, consumer deception and unfair business practices.

Cohen said in the suit that she bought the game in late 2004 for her grandson when it was rated “M” for mature, for players 17 and older. According to the suit, she directed that it be taken away from her grandson, which was done.

The game was released in October with an “M” rating. After a storm of negative publicity about the hidden scenes, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, an industry group responsible for rating games, changed the rating to “AO” for adults only.

Laurence D. Paskowitz, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cohen, said no parent would knowingly buy an adult-only video game for their children.

Meanwhile, most major retailers no longer carry the game, either because of the bad PR it’s received or because of its new AO rating.

Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center rightly alludes to the deep, hypocritical, and ugly double-standard at play in this story.

Never does the ponderous machinery of government and commerce rev up so quickly as when the republic is threatened by, uh, sex.

The sex this time is in a video game, the San Andreas version of Grand Theft Auto, the world’s most popular game series and long criticized for its violent content. Earlier this month, discovery of a minute or so of animated sex secretly tucked away under layer upon layer of coded violence created shudders of alarm along Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street and Main Street, America.

Congress, preoccupied by a Supreme Court nomination, debate over energy and trade bills, re-authorization of the Patriot Act and in a rush to complete other pressing business before the August recess, nevertheless found time to fret about this development.

“When the republic is threatened by, uh, sex.” That’s when we get upset. That’s when we act.

The 85-year-old grandmother who now feels entitled to sue for being duped — where was her outrage back when Grand Theft Auto was just about blowing people’s heads off? If she wouldn’t have bought the game for her grandson knowing that it contained super-secret sex, why did she buy it knowing that ultra-violent gore was the game’s selling point?

What the hell every happened to parental responsibility?

Grand Theft Auto has always been rated MA for mature audiences — audiences over 17, that is.

Florence Cohen purchased game rated for 17-year-olds for her 14-year-old grandson. Her real complaint isn’t the irresponsibility of Take Two; it’s about a flaw in her own parenting skills.

She has no right to be upset. She has even less of a right to sue.


Will Your Local TV News Soon Seem Like Fox News?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
August 1, 2005 @ 9:56 am
Filed under: Media Watch

Roger Ailes is the CEO of Fox News, the right-wing cable news station.

He may soon get control of 35 broadcast news shows as well.

From Media Bistro’s TV Newser:

Following Lachlan Murdoch’s resignation, there is “a possibility that Roger Ailes, who built the Fox News Channel and is a close ally of the elder Mr. Murdoch, will now have an expanded role in the” News Corporation, the New York Times says. “Mr. Ailes, now the chairman and chief executive of Fox News, has told company executives that he would be interested in assuming oversight of the 35 TV stations owned and operated by Fox that had reported to Lachlan.”

People who like watching the local tv news, but don’t think it’s right-wing enough, may be in for a treat.


Front-Yard Blogging?

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 9:46 am
Filed under: Free Speech

The Boston Herald tells us of local free speechers who notify passersby of their opinions via yard sign. (Or, in one case, via a house wrapped in prayers.)

Political yard signs are becoming increasingly controversial in some locales. Some municipalities relegate them to election season and restrict their size, while other towns are battling to overturn such restrictions.

A particular concern, for some, about non-election-season issue-oriented yard signs is that they may tend more toward “hate” speech than “free” speech — assuming that there’s a difference.

It’s a free speech battle we’re sure to hear more of in the not-distant future. Meantime, the Herald has coined a fantabulous new term for the practice: Front-yard blogging.

See also, “When It Comes to Homeland Security, Censorship Is a More Imminent Threat than Terrorism,” “Duluth, MN: Free Speech Signs of the Times,” “Don’t Forget Your Free Speech Permit!,” and, just for kicks “The Attack of the Abominable Snow Phallus.”


British Protesters Arrested for Protesting Protest Ban

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 9:23 am
Filed under: Free Speech

British protesters have been arrested in London’s Parliament square for protesting a ban on, um, protesting. Recent rules have banned protests without prior permission.

Members of an anti-war group, somewhat convinced that their free speech rights were being violated, decided to test the new no-protest rule.

They lost.

From the Guardian:

Up to 200 members of the Stop the War coalition, CND and other groups symbolically put gags over their mouths as part of the unauthorised protest, which the police had warned would now be illegal.

After warning and photographing demonstrators, police moved in and arrested three men and two women.

The Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who had been breaking the new law by addressing the demonstration through a small microphone at the time, said: “This is absolutely absurd. Ordinary people have been arrested for taking part in a perfectly peaceful demonstration outside parliament during the recess.

“This demonstration was all about the right to express one’s point of view. I suspect that this provocative action by the police on the first day of this new law may encourage other demonstrations.”

The demo — which included Lauren Booth, a sister of the prime minister’s wife, Cherie — was to highlight the enactment of a new law banning demonstrations within half a mile of the palace of Westminster without at least 24 hours’ prior authorisation from the Metropolitan police.

It also bans loudspeakers, megaphones and “encampments” such as the long-standing protest by Brian Haw in Parliament Square.

Ms Booth said three of the five people arrested appeared to come from minority groups even though most of those on the protest were white.

1 Comment

Corporate Websites to Teach History to Kids

Posted by Eric Jaffa
August 1, 2005 @ 9:07 am
Filed under: General

How would a big corporation write American history?

Kids across the country may soon find out, even as they surf the web.

Taxpayers are putting $20 million into this dubious project.

From the Los Angeles Times:

When the Corp. for Public Broadcasting announced in the spring the launch of an ambitious program aimed at expanding middle- and high-school students’ knowledge of U.S. history and civics, it seemed to fit squarely with its traditional public service mission.

But an emphasis by corporation officials on how corporate investors could profit from the project has provoked controversy about the role commercial interests will play in the initiative and hints at new areas of conflict in public broadcasting’s reliance on private-sector support.

The CPB — a private, nonprofit corporation that distributes federal funds to public broadcasters — plans to dole out $20 million in grants over the next three years as part of its American History and Civics Initiative. The money will go to projects that use websites, video games, podcasts and other new media to teach students about history and politics.

To get high-tech companies to participate in the initiative, CPB officials have urged producers to stress the profit to be made as schools across the country are exposed to their products. At briefings about the project, a CPB consultant (James Denton) suggested telling corporations that public television will be “a Trojan horse” to gain them entree into schools, according to attendees.

I have a suspicion there won’t be much about the accomplishments of unions, trust-busting, or workers’ rights at these history websites.