Celebrating World Press Freedom Day, and What the First Amendment Means to the MPAA
Author:  Chris Dodd
Date:  05/06/2011

This week, we celebrated World Press Freedom Day, a holiday dedicated by UNESCO to honor the fundamental principles of press freedom, monitor and defend that freedom around the world, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.  It’s also nearly the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which I sponsored in the Senate and passed last year. 

As a U.S. Senator and Co-Chair of the Freedom of the Press Congressional Caucus, protecting the media – their workforce and their content – was a commitment in which I passionately believed and strived to uphold. 

As Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, I now have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of an organization that’s history is steeped in defending First Amendment principles. 

Many people don’t realize that the MPAA itself was born as an answer to government censorship.  Before the establishment of the MPAA’s Classifications and Rating Administration, early filmmakers battled a mishmash of local, state and federal boards that mandated strict “moral standards” that often destroyed the artistic integrity of films or kept them from being shown at all. 

In the early 1920’s, for example, a pregnant woman could appear onscreen in New York, but not in Pennsylvania.  Even when censorship boards in different jurisdictions were implementing substantially identical regulations, each board would often demand different changes.  It was a system that was both prohibitively expensive and restrictive for many filmmakers. 

Since 1968, the Classifications and Rating Administration’s voluntary ratings system and its partnership with the National Association of Theater Owners have served to effectively educate moviegoers about content contained in films and to bar unaccompanied minors from viewing films meant strictly for mature audiences.  This system of self-regulation rendered government censorship of artistic expression superfluous.  

I’m honored to be part of this history.  As head of the MPAA, I will continue to promote the power of film as an effective, moving and extremely valuable form of expression and the need for governments here and abroad to foster and protect the creativity of filmmakers, not censor it.