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Coalition calls for veto of NJ media violence 'disinformation bill'

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The National Coalition Against Censorship, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Center for Democracy and Technology sent a letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie today asking him to veto Senate Bill 2715, which would require the state's Department of Education "to prepare and distribute informational pamphlets on how parents can limit a child's exposure to media violence," which includes video games, according to the text of the bill.

The letter, which is cosigned by Joan Bertin, NCAC's executive director, and Chris Finan, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression president, and Emma Llanso, policy council for the Center for Democracy and Technology, calls the bill "well-intentioned" but "deeply misguided" for several reasons, the first of which is the assumptions underlying it.

"The bill poses both practical and constitutional problems," the letter reads. "The most glaring problem is that the bill is based on factual assumptions that the United States Supreme Court has explicitly rejected: that exposure to media violence causes violent behavior and that children who consume violent media become aggressive or anti-social."

The letter also points to "an impossible burden on state educators" who would be required to be "fully informed about all research about media effects." Finally, the bill also poses constitutional questions, given that "violent images in art and entertainment are fully entitled to First Amendment protection."

Senate Bill 2715 passed both state houses of congress June 24, and is based on the idea that "exposure to, or involvement in, violence can disrupt normal childhood development and profoundly effect a child's mental, physical, and emotional well-being," according to the text, which cites studies from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, and the Media Awareness Network.

Earlier this year, New Jersey's SAFE Task Force on Gun Protection, Addiction, Mental Health and Families, and Education Safety recommended regulating "violent video games." Gov. Christie convened the Task Force in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December. In January, the governor included video games in a list of things that he believed should be examined in the wake of the shooting.

We've reached out to the governor's office and NCAC for more information.