The First Amendment

ISSUES – The First Amendment

We exist because we have the right to use not only our place in public, but also our voice. The First Amendment guards this right to freedom of speech.



Testimony of TCC Co-President Joe Pantoliano before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

My name is Joe Pantoliano and along with Tony Goldwyn I serve as Co-President of The Creative Coalition. We are the leading nonprofit, non-partisan advocacy arm of the arts and entertainment community.  We advocate for First Amendment protections, arts education in schools, and combating runaway television and movie production.  On this last issue, The Creative Coalition has been a leading voice in successfully passing state, local and federal tax incentives that bring film and television jobs back into the United States. We would like to bring this same inventive leadership to the issue of broadcast decency.  As leaders in the entertainment industry, we hope to offer meaningful approaches to addressing parental concerns about broadcast content, while preserving creative expression on the airwaves.

I’m honored to be here today to talk about issues that are important to me not only as the Co-President of The Creative Coalition, but more importantly as a father.  Throughout my career I have performed in a diverse array of movies ranging from the live-action animated children’s movie “Racing Stripes” to the R-rated sci-fi thriller “The Matrix.” I also played a role on “The Sopranos,” a show that I was proud to be a part of and one that critics hailed as one of the most innovative shows on the small screen… a show that contains graphic language and violence.

I am somewhat flabbergasted on the many occasions that parents approach me with their young children and encourage their children to tell me how much they love “The Sopranos.” On these occasions, I can’t help but think “why would they let their children watch this show”?  It is simply not appropriate for anyone under the age of eighteen. But the fact remains that adults should have the flexibility and opportunity to watch shows like “The Sopranos,” or “South Park” or “Desperate Housewives.”  If people stopped watching these shows, they’d be off the air.  Instead, they’re some of the highest-rated programs on TV today, one on premium cable, one on basic cable, and one on network TV.  However, these shows are clearly not intended for children. Parents need to know which shows are, and aren’t, appropriate for kids.  That’s why my family loves the MPAA ratings system.  My youngest daughters can open the movie section of the paper and instantly tell from the ratings what they’ll be allowed to see.  And my wife and I can monitor what they watch in theatres because we’re the ones who drive them there. Monitoring what they watch at home, however, has become increasingly difficult.  Given the array of media options out there, this generation of families needs to be media literate.  Parents need as many tools as they can find – from clear ratings guides to TV channel blocks – in order to monitor what their children watch. The Creative Coalition is playing a prominent role in educating families about available tools.  We are using our public platform to encourage parents to make educated and appropriate choices. Because parents and caregivers, not the government, are the proper parties to make these choices.  The government should help educate… not regulate.  Empowering parents is always preferable to government intervention.

Creative expression is the core of the Bill of Rights…  It is the fuel that propels the economic engine of the American entertainment industry. This industry represents 20% of our gross domestic product and 40% of our exports.

Government censorship or fines will have a negative impact on the creative programming that many of us enjoy.  We’ve seen the World War II classic “Saving Private Ryan” pulled off the air in one-third of the country on Veteran’s Day.  Local TV stations around the country deleted entire sections from a PBS documentary about the Iraq war due to soldiers’ language. The history of innovative broadcast programming – from Edward R. Murrow to “All in the Family” to “NYPD Blue” to talk radio – has relied on free expression without fear of government retaliation. The indecency fines which passed the House of Representatives could undermine free expression by threatening all American citizens with a $500,000 fine for exercising their First Amendment rights on the air.  These fines are often referred to as performer fines, but that is a misnomer. This is not a Hollywood issue; it is an everyman issue.

These fines would not be limited to high-profile celebrities such as Janet Jackson or Howard Stern.  They would apply to every American citizen who the FCC deems in violation.  Thus, “man on the street” interviewees, athletes, elected officials, and call-in show listeners could face financial ruin if they say the wrong thing, even if it’s accidental.  The legal fees alone involved with hiring a special FCC lawyer could drive the average person into the poor house.

Chairman Stevens and Members of the Committee, I implore you to reject these fine increases that are an affront to our most basic liberty.  Please don’t sell away our artistic freedoms for half a million dollars.

In conclusion, I think that President George W. Bush had it right.  He said that “as a free speech advocate, I often told parents who were complaining about content, you’re the first line of responsibility; they put an off button on the TV for a reason. Turn it off.”

Chairman Stevens, I applaud your leadership in this regard and we at The Creative Coalition look forward to working with you and members of the Committee as this issue moves forward.
Thank you.