GET INVOLVED     |     ISSUES     |     NEWSROOM     |     RESOURCES     |     ABOUT US     |     CONTRIBUTE     |     SEARCH  





Free speech, not a free ride
Boston Globe Editorial

November 22, 2006

THE MBTA may have found a solution to its video game ad quandary that satisfies both the Constitution and the community activists who are battling the violent side of the video industry. Elected officials, church leaders, and other protesters should give the T's legal team the time it needs to work out a rational plan.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, and others have called on the T to pull advertisements for "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories," a video game that makes sport of killing or maiming police officers, prostitutes, and the elderly. They cite studies that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior. The T became a target of opportunity. But the anger would be better directed at Rockstar Games, the New York-based creator of the game.

At first glance, it would seem that the T is stuck. Courts have ruled that government-run operations, such as public transit systems, are public forums. But the T's strategy is to treat the "Grand Theft" ad like it would an ad for a movie. A federal court has upheld guidelines regulating MBTA advertising that allow transit officials to reject ads for X-rated and NC-17 films. T General Manager Daniel Grabauskas says his legal team is exploring whether the guidelines would also apply to comparable "adults only" and "mature" ratings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Grabauskas says he sees a "symmetry" and intends to pursue the strategy.

The outcome of such an approach is unknown. Timothy Wilton, a professor of constitutional law at Suffolk University, points out that the First Amendment is so broad as to protect even the advocacy of crime unless it is likely to cause "imminent unlawful activity." And the T's track record in this area isn't good. In 1994, the T sought to bar ads promoting condom use. Later it rejected ads from a group advocating changes in the drug laws and from a religious group claiming to be the one true faith. But a federal appeals court would have none of it, ruling in the 2004 Ridley v. MBTA case that the T had no right to reject the ads simply because transit officials disapproved of their content. Transit riders, however, are a captive audience of sorts, which could win a court's sympathy.

The "Grand Theft Auto" ad in question shows little more than a caricature of a man and the name of the product. Makers of violent video games are clever like that. The T, therefore, can't immediately place it in the category of banned ads that show violent or prurient images. But the T could still outwit the industry by grouping it with other "adult-oriented goods or services" that courts agree can be kept out of the transit system.

It would be nice to see both decency and the Constitution win one at the expense of "Grand Theft Auto."

This article is copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner












Website Designed & Maintained By: AfterFive by Design, Inc.
CCFC Logo And Fact Sheets By:

Copyright 2004 Commercial Free Childhood. All rights reserved