SEJ, J-Groups Urge High Court To Toss Curb on Speech in Wildlife Case

July 29, 2009

The Society of Environmental Journalists has joined other journalism groups in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal law that criminalizes the possession, creation, or sale of a wide variety of depictions involving animals.

Spearheaded by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, SEJ joined RCFP and 12 other journalism groups in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case known as U.S. v. Stevens. The groups challenge the constitutionality of a 1999 federal law (18 USC 48) making it a felony to create, sell or possess “a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain.”
 
The law was aimed at discouraging the production of pornographic "crush videos," which depict the deliberate killing of animals. But sloppy legal draftsmanship resulted in a law that could put journalists and publishers in jail for doing investigative exposés of inhumane conditions at slaughterhouses, documentaries on bass fishing, or human interest stories on circus parades. Journalists who cover fishing and hunting are especially concerned about the law.
 
Although the journalism groups agreed that the “goal of preventing crush videos and other animal cruelty is certainly a worthy one,” they argued that it “is this very interest in protecting animals from abuse that makes speech about their treatment so valuable.”
 
In addition to SEJ and RCFP, the groups include: The American Society of News Editors, The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Citizen Media Law Project, MediaNews Group, Inc., The National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio, Inc., The New York Times Company, The Newspaper Association of America, The Newspaper Guild-CWA, Outdoor Writers Association of America, The Radio-Television News Directors Association, and The Society of Professional Journalists.