Media and Video Game Freedom

TV, radio, video games, and online media are under constant attack by some who wish to use government to restrict free speech, content, or outlet ownership.  Some of these efforts violate First Amendment rights, while parental controls are a more appropriate route for others.  Yet, none of them warrant government action.

Video Game Freedom

States and localities across the country are increasingly looking to supplant “parental controls” on video games with “government controls.”  Laws that restrict or ban the sale of certain video games to minors no doubt have good intentions, but they raise First Amendment concerns, do not recognize how minors access games today, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars due to court challenges.

To date, every attempt to enact a ban on video game sales has been rejected in court.  Judges have consistently found that, while banning the sale of content (including books, movies, and video games) to adults is unconstitutional, states can not exempt some video game sales from First Amendment protections for minors either.  Taxpayers have paid at least $2 million to date for state Attorneys General to defend the laws, despite never getting a win.  Finally, bans don’t recognize that minors increasingly purchase video games through the Internet, which has no effective way to verify age.

The issue has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Schwarzenegger v. EMA, which should strike down these laws.  Instead of handing politicians and bureaucrats the authority to insulate kids from content, adults should use existing parental controls.  These include game ratings from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and gaming console settings, which are far more customizable than a one-size-fits-all government policy.

Media Ownership

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established media ownership rules that restrict co-ownership of certain mediums, such as newspapers and TV stations.  These antiquated rules prevent media companies from rapidly evolving to meet the needs of consumers and block investment that can help fund traditional media outlets.

Online Speech and Fairness Doctrine

Between 1949 and 1987, the Federal Communications Commission required broadcasters with controversial views to give equal weight to opposing points of view. While such rules are now gone, legislation pertaining to them often appears before Congress.

At the same time, there are new calls to regulate certain speech.  Some have called for the FCC to go beyond their purview and monitor certain types of speech online.  Others have called for blogs and websites with opinion sections to be required to link to opposing content.  Instead, First Amendment speech should be protected for all broadcasters and Internet builders, content creators, and users.