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Game Ad Ban Challenged

Donna Goodison
Boston Herlad
July 25, 2009

The Entertainment Software Association is suing the Chicago Transit Authority over its policy of banning advertisements for mature- and adults only-rated video games, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could be in its crosshairs next.

The trade group’s federal lawsuit alleges the CTA’s policy, adopted in January, violates it First Amendment rights because it unconstitutionally “restricts speech in a public forum that is otherwise open to all speakers without a compelling interest for doing so.”

“Right now we’re focused on Chicago and the case against the Chicago Transit Authority, and we’re reviewing other municipalities and taking action as appropriate,” said Dan Hewitt, a spokesman for the group, which is aware of the MBTA’s similar policy.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois on Wednesday, the suit follows a controversy last fall when Take Two Interactive Software’s ads for the “Grand Theft Auto IV” video game - rated M for “Mature 17-plus” - were pulled by the CTA after a TV station drew a possible correlation between them and a weekend crime wave.

Take Two sued the CTA, which as part of a settlement ran the ads for six weeks. But it passed a new ordinance in January, banning ads for video games rated M or AO for “Adults Only 18-plus.”

The MBTA, meanwhile, maintains its policy would hold up in federal court.

“The MBTA is convinced that its guidelines, having been fully vetted in the court system, will stand up to any potential challenges,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

Pesaturo was referring to a 2002 federal court ruling in the MBTA’s favor after Change the Climate filed a lawsuit claiming its First Amendment rights were violated when the T banned its ads promoting the legalization of marijuana. The judge ruled that subway stations and buses didn’t meet the legal definition of a public forum.

The MBTA regulation also prohibit ads for R- and AO-rated video games. It was instituted in 2006, after the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood complained about ads for “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories,” which allowsplayers to kill prostitutes, shoot cops and run over old people.

“...The amendment to the guidelines was written in accordance with the judge’s decision,” Pesaturo said. “It has not been challenged since taking effect three years ago.”

 

 

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