Media Groups Threaten Suit Over Anti-Pornography Law

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Motion Picture Association of America, booksellers, publishers and other media groups are urging Gov. Bob Taft to veto a bill updating Ohio's anti-pornography law. The groups say the bill is unconstitutional and they'll sue if Taft signs it.

The bill updates the portion of Ohio's sex offense law dealing with materials that could be harmful to juveniles. It adds computer images to the list of materials that could display pornography.

The sponsor, Rep. Jim Hughes, a Columbus Republican, said the bill is aimed at toughening Ohio law regarding child pornography. He said Thursday he believes the bill is constitutional.

In Ohio's sex offense law, the word "material" includes books, magazines, newspapers, prints, pictures, images, motion picture films and phonographic records.

The bill would add images appearing on a computer monitor, TV screen or liquid crystal display, any image transmitted via e-mail through the Internet, and any image recorded on a computer hard drive or floppy disk.

Opponents say the bill is flawed in two ways. First, by prohibiting transmission of material deemed "harmful to juveniles" on the Internet, it would prevent adults from viewing things that are appropriate for adults but not children, such as violent action films.

Second, they say Ohio's existing law already violates the First Amendment because it goes beyond constitutionally protected definitions of obscenity.

They cite a 1982 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Ohio's law goes beyond the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that spelled out definitions of obscenity.

The bill "unnecessarily casts too wide a net, and in its broad language, affects a wide range of constitutionally protected content, including mainstream motion pictures and television programs as well as other entertainment currently enjoyed today by a majority of Ohio citizens," Vans Stevenson, the Motion Picture Association's senior vice president for state legislative affairs, said in a letter to Taft on Wednesday.

Taft, who received the letter Thursday, is aware of the constitutional issues being raised by opponents, spokesman Joe Andrews said. "We're going to take a look at it," he said.

The Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan agency that drafts and analyzes legislation, issued three legal memos in June indicating potential problems with the bill's constitutionality as well as the existing law.

The Media Coalition, a New York-based group representing booksellers, publishers, video software dealers and others said in a similar letter to Taft on Wednesday that it would likely sue if he signed the bill.

Coalition members say the bill is a poorly crafted attempt to crack down on child pornography, which is already illegal. All the groups oppose child pornography.

"The First Amendment as far as book publishers are concerned is indivisible," Judith Platt, spokeswoman for the Association of American Publishers, said Thursday. "You can't censor speech on the Internet without having a profound effect on printed speech as well."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)