Why Free Speech is Critical to Film and Television Production in Georgia…and Around the World

By Chris Dodd – One thing all Americans can agree on is the value of our freedoms. While we may sometimes take our Constitutional rights for granted, or differ on their precise interpretation, we can easily agree that the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are fundamental to what makes our country what it is today.

chris_dodd1-1024x682(This blog by Motion Picture Association of America CEO and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd first appeared in the Huffington Post Oct. 17, 2016)

The First Amendment right to free speech undergirds all other rights, and here at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), we value and protect this freedom because it’s at the heart of everything we do. We take pride in our role protecting the rights of filmmakers to tell their stories – and for audiences to hear and see them.

Throughout its history, the film and television community has been a steadfast voice for free speech and expression. In fact, the MPAA was founded in 1922 to resist mounting calls for government censorship of films. While the nature of the fight has changed over the past century, our fight to promote and protect free speech continues unabated.

The Supreme Court has weighed in, referring to copyright to as the “engine of free expression.” But as the makers of great film and television continue to offer imaginative and innovative – often even controversial – storytelling, they still face threats to that basic freedom of expression today. There are some who seek to weaken copyright protections, to the detriment of creators. We will always fight on behalf of creators, and in support of free speech.

Last week, I was honored to accept the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award on behalf of the MPAA for our efforts to strengthen free speech in the Peach State. I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta and meet with local policy makers, journalists, lawyers, and industry professionals who share our passion for free speech.

Georgia has recently been a battleground in the fight to protect speech, and this year, we celebrate a major victory. Thanks to the efforts of Governor Nathan Deal and the state Legislature, Georgia has a new, improved anti-SLAPP statute that better protects the free speech rights of producers, writers, directors, actors, and other creative professionals – not to mention ordinary Georgia citizens who wish to speak out on public issues without the fear of facing ruinous lawsuits.

The new law makes it quicker, easier, and less expensive to have lawsuits that target the exercise of free speech dismissed. This will create a much more favorable legal environment for movie and TV production in Georgia.

Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Executive Director Hollie Manheimer explained that MPAA was “instrumental in pushing for these free speech protections that benefit everyone in Georgia.” I am proud of our role in helping get the anti-SLAPP legislation over the goal line, and look forward to seeing continued growth in Georgia’s local film and television industry as a result.

The MPAA studios are strong supporters of anti-SLAPP laws, because they are frequent targets of lawsuits by people who don’t like how they are portrayed in movies and TV shows. Too frequently, these legal actions can have the effect of silencing creative voices, or at least making it more expensive and burdensome to tell stories about real people and events. Just think of all the great movies and TV shows audiences could lose out on absent these important legal protections.

Now, with further protections and fewer barriers, the film and television industry will be able to produce more films and shows in the state of Georgia, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue, and countless jobs to the area. This win for free speech is a win for every individual, family, business, and organization in the state.

My discussions in Georgia were particularly timely, as this week, we celebrate National Free Speech Week, an opportunity to recognize the importance of this freedom and recommit ourselves to protecting it. I encourage you to join the MPAA, and others, as we raise public awareness about the importance of free speech in our democracy – visit freespeechweek.org to learn more.

For more about the MPAA’s work to preserve free speech here.

For a full copy of Senator Dodd’s speech before the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, click here.


Join us for an evening with Motion Picture Association’s Chris Dodd

ONLINE TICKET SALES ENDED. Individual tickets are now available for this year’s annual Weltner Banquet, hosted by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. We’ll be awarding the Motion Picture Association of chris_dodd1-1024x682America the Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award for leadership in improving free speech protections in Georgia. Former U.S. Senator and MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd will accept the award and speak about the Motion Picture Association’s deep commitment to free speech and current threats to that fundamental right.

Dodd will be introduced by Wyche Fowler, a former U.S. senator from Georgia and chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Charles Weltner.

We hope you will join us at the event, which takes place at:

6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13
Silverbell Pavilion of the Emory Conference Center
1615 Clifton Road N.E., Atlanta, GA 30329.

To learn more about the event, visit our website.

To purchase a table, email info@gfaf.org or call Becky Cesario, 678-395-3618. (Deadline  Oct. 9)

Weltner Award: Foundation honors Motion Picture Association as free speech leader

This year the General Assembly passed the most effective legislative protection of free speech rights in Georgia in 20 years. It was a major First Amendment victory for Georgians, bolstering their right to comment on matters of public concern. But it happened with little public attention, and it came about because of the concerted efforts of an often-unheralded First Amendment champion: the Motion Picture Association of America.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is honoring the Motion Picture Association’s leadership role in building a coalition that helped persuade state lawmakers to strengthen free speech laws. The foundation has named MPAA as its recipient of the 2016 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award.

chris_dodd1-1024x682Former U.S. senator and MPAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Dodd will come to Atlanta on Oct. 13 to accept the award at the foundation’s annual Weltner Banquet.

“The MPAA is honored to receive the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Weltner Freedom of Information Award,” Dodd said. “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to promoting First Amendment freedoms. We consistently resist calls for government censorship and work every single day to protect filmmakers’ rights to tell their stories. Georgia’s new, stronger free speech law safeguards those rights.”

To attend, complete and email the sponsorship form.

For more information about Weltner Banquet sponsorships, please contact GFAF Executive Director Hollie Manheimer, gfaf@mindspring.com, 404-759-3646; or Becky Cesario, gfaf@proapg.com, 678-395-3618.

The Motion Picture Association’s work under the Gold Dome led to increased legal protections against so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. The result: Deep-pocketed plaintiffs now have a much tougher time sustaining groundless defamation and other claims designed to chill free speech in Georgia.

“It was an extraordinary First Amendment triumph, particularly during a time when such essential constitutional rights are under threat,” said Georgia First Amendment Foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer. “The Motion Picture Association was instrumental in pushing for these free speech protections that benefit everyone in Georgia.”

The state’s previous anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1996 and was narrowly interpreted to protect statements made to governmental bodies or linked to official proceedings. This year’s House Bill 513, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, expanded protection to all speech—and related conduct—on all matters of public concern. It also included provisions for prompt appellate review and mandatory award of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. The legislation became law on July 1, ensuring Georgia courts are places of protection, not harassment, for the exercise of free speech.

The Motion Picture Association’s First Amendment advocacy stretches back to its founding in 1922. The association consistently fights to make sure films and other creative works are afforded full free speech rights.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Freedom of Information Award is named for Charles L. Weltner, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who championed freedom of information and ethics in state government. The annual Weltner Banquet provides financial support for the foundation’s narrow and essential mission: fighting for free speech, government transparency and access to public information in Georgia.

Media contact: Hollie Manheimer, Executive Director, Georgia First Amendment Foundation

Phone: 404 -759-3646

Email: info@gfaf.org

Twitter: @GA1stAmendFound