A 1999 law banning videos depicting cruelty to animals and struck down at the appellate level made it all the way to the Supreme Court – where it ran into a panel of skeptical justices. And that could be a relief to the producers of some outdoor-oriented programming.
The law was originally aimed at putting a class of fetish video out of production, the practice of “crushing” small animals in a provocative way. It was used to imprison a videographer of dog fights.
However, the Supreme Court justices appeared to agree with the lower court, that the law was too broad. It was feared that the definition could be expanded to include hunting shows – a staple on some television stations and cable systems – and other material involving animals.
Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that Congress get specific if it wants certain highly objectionable material to be excluded from First Amendment protection, as is child pornography. In other words, ban crushing and dog-fighting videos specifically.
RBR-TVBR observation: We are firm opponents of cruelty to animals, but we are also firm upholders of the First Amendment, and we applaud this probable victory for freedom of speech.
We would also point out that perhaps the best program we have ever seen that takes on the topic of cruelty to animals is “Animal Cops” on cable network Animal Planet. It shows the true consequences of neglect and abuse, and often shows the perpetrators being brought to justice. And conceivably, it could be put out of business by this law.
That’s one reason why attempts to protect citizens from objectionable material, no matter how well-intentioned, are almost always ultimately misguided.