POLICY ON ALIEN FILMS CHALLENGED
Miami Herald, The (FL) - March 10, 1983
Author: From Herald Wire Services
A civil liberties group challenged the Reagan Administration in court Wednesday over its decision to brand three Canadian films as propaganda that must carry special labels when shown in the United States.
In legal papers filed in U.S. District Court, the American Civil Liberties Union said the action violates constitutional free speech guarantees and stigmatizes the films, two about acid rain and an anti-nuclear movie nominated for an Academy Award.
Meanwhile, Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D., Wis.), chairman of the House judiciary subcommittee on civil rights, introduced a bill to repeal the section of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 requiring that films and other similar material carry the disclaimer.
Kastenmeier said his bill would repeal the section of the law calling for Justice Department review of films and other materials.
"I view such actions as unwarranted government intrusion into activities in an area clearly protected by the First Amendment," the congressman said.
At issue is the Justice Department's decision that the three films -- produced by the National Film Board of Canada, an independent agency of the Canadian government -- are subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Under that law, the department can review materials intended for distribution in this country by registered agents of foreign powers.
If the material meets a definition of "political propaganda," it must carry a label that it is edited by the registered party and that "registration does not indicate approval of the contents of this material by the U.S. government."
The film board also must tell the government the number of groups seeing the film and the names of the television stations, organizations or theaters using the material.
The ACLU said the government's "attempts to cause a denigrating label to be placed or retained on the films, and the requirements that the Canadian film board assist in the execution of any notice of dissemination in connection with the films violate the First Amendment."
It also said the films fall under a fine arts exemption of the law.
The ACLU asked the court to declare the "political propaganda" regulations are unconstitutional and to block the government from requiring the films to carry the special label.
The government's action has caused a storm of protest and condemnation from members of Congress. It also prompted long lines at movie theaters showing the films: If You Love This Planet, Acid From Heaven, and Acid Rain: Requiem or Recovery?.
The Justice Department had no comment on the ACLU's suit. However, in letters to editors last week, department spokesman Thomas DeCair said the administration is not engaging in censorship and called the reaction "uninformed hysteria."
The ACLU filed its suit on behalf of two environmental groups, a Washington movie theater which has shown the documentaries, a film distributor, the New York Library Association and the state of New York, which argued its citizens have a right to learn about the acid rain problem that affects their environment.