Miami-Dade Transit Officials Explain GTA IV Ad Ban Decision (sort of…)

It took a few days, but GamePolitics has tracked down some background on the process which led Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) officials to pull ads for Grand Theft Auto IV.

As we reported late last month, the South Florida transit agency yanked GTA IV ads from bus shelters following pressure by anti-game attorney Jack Thompson.

While following up on this story GP communicated with MDT Deputy Director Hugh Chen and Marketing Director Michael DeCossio. It was media relations official Manuel Palmiero, however, who ultimately supplied the information below. What follows are GP’s question, MDT’s verbatim answers and a few bits of commentary:

GP: The GTA IV ads themselves are inoffensive. Is Miami-Dade Transit making a value judgment as to the underlying product? If so, this judgment is based on…?

MDT: The Miami-Dade County Commission has adopted three resolutions in the last five years dealing with violent video games — R-1447-03, R-248-04 and R-573-06. You may look up all three at www.miamidade.gov/govaction/searchleg.asp?Action=searchleg.

The first resolution specifically condemned the “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” video game for its “hate-filled messages” and for appearing “to encourage or condone violence against ethnic minorities” and called on retailers to remove the game from their shelves. The other two condemned violent video games in general and urged retailers not to make such games available to minors. 

Miami-Dade Transit is a department of Miami-Dade County and as such follows the policies set by the Miami-Dade County Commission and Mayor.

(GP comment: This seems a rather bureaucratic justification. None of the three resolutions address public transit. Nor do they direct county agencies to take a hands-off posture with regard to video games. Nor does MDT answer the question as to whether they made a value judgment concerning GTA IV, although it seems obvious that they did.)

GP: Which official made the final decision to remove the ads?
 
MDT: After receiving and evaluating the request for removal of the ads, MDT staff made the recommendation to remove them.  [Ad company] Cemusa was instructed to remove the ads last Friday, April 25.

(GP: we received this info from MDT on Friday, May 2nd)
 
GP: Is MDT familiar with Change the Climate vs MBTA, in which the US First Circuit Court ruled that a quasi-governmental transit agency could not restrict ads based on viewpoint?
 
MDT: Miami-Dade Transit is a department of Miami-Dade County and as such is a unit of County government, not a quasi-governmental transit agency.

(GP comment: This answer is puzzling. The First Circuit Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a quasi-governmental agency to restrict free speech. Since MDT is organized as a full-fledged unit of government, it has at least as much – and probably more – of an obligation not to restrict free speech. Nor does the answer acknowledge the Change the Climate case.)

GP: Is MDT aware of [complainant] Mr. [Jack] Thompson’s longstanding contentious history with the publisher of this game [Take Two Interactive], including his involvement on the plaintiff side in a pair of wrongful death lawsuits seeking $1.2 billion?
 
MDT: We were not aware of this information but it is not relevant to the matter at hand and would not have affected our decision to remove the ads.
 
GP: Other than Thompson’s, were any other complaints received about the ads?
 
MDT: We are not aware of any others to date.

GP:  Would you characterize MDT as a unit of government, as opposed to quasi-governmental? (I note the .gov website address)
 
MDT: As stated above, MDT is a department of Miami-Dade County government and therefore is a unit of government, not a quasi-governmental agency.

GP: What other types of ads are restricted? Alcohol? R-rated movies? How about a cable show along the lines of The Sopranos or Sex in the City? 

MDT: MDT’s contract with CEMUSA lists several types of ads that are restricted, including:

-Advertising that contains traffic-related symbols or words like “Stop,” Drive In” or “Danger” that are designed to distract vehicular traffic

-Ads containing immoral, lascivious or obscene material as well as ads promoting businesses engaged in any activity that requires that exclusion of minors

-Ads for alcoholic beverages
 
In addition, the contract states that MDT may “at its sole, absolute discretion” disallow any questionable ads, such as those that may violate community standards as we understand them based on our knowledge of the community and the feedback generated by certain types of ads in the past.

(GP comment: Now that Take Two has sued the Chicago Transit Authority over that agency’s removal of GTA IV ads, a similar suit against MDT seems highly likely…)

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