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JOURNALISTS SHOULD OPPOSE SAG/AFTRA MERGER DUE TO CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

by Mimi Brickmeyer, staff writer [December 10, 2011]

 

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Actors and journalists and actors have opposing interests. Actors want to control information -- how the media portrays them. Journalists want unlimited access to the truth of actors' lives -- so they can report the truth!

Actors want to expand their legal rights to privacy, publicity, and intellectual property. Journalists need to limit actors' privacy/publicity rights, and expand Fair Use in copyright law, to make it easier to cover and report on celebrities.

Whichever side is right or wrong -- whatever your opinion on this conflict -- actors and journalists are at odds over the law.

Because of this conflict of interest, it makes no sense for the same union to represent both actors and journalists, at least on issues other than pay and benefits.

Yet the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents both actors and broadcast journalists -- and often lobbies on political issues -- and always to the detriment of their broadcast journalist members!

Actors outnumber journalists in AFTRA, so journalists' interests are not only ignored, they are actively opposed.

Now AFTRA wants to merge with the all-actor Screen Actors Guild, which would further dilute journalists' influence in their "own" union.

Here's one example of how SAG and AFTRA hurt journalists in favor of actors.

The Internet Movie Database publishes actors' birth dates -- including the year of their births. That's great! Journalists need access to accurate information. But the actors unions are now bullying IMDb to suppress this information (actors don't like having their ages revealed), although doing so would harm AFTRA's journalist members.

According to an October 27, 2011 SAG report:

 

IMDb publishes the actual dates of birth of thousands of actors without their consent, most of them not celebrities but rank-and-file actors whose names are unknown to the general public. When their actual ages then become known to casting personnel, the 10+ year age range that many of them can portray suddenly shrinks, and so do their opportunities to work. 

Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strongly believe that businesses like IMDb have a moral and legal obligation not to facilitate age discrimination in employment. Entertainment industry employers who would never directly ask a potential employee’s age routinely access that information through IMDb and its professional subscription site IMDbPro. IMDb has the power to remove the temptation for employers to engage in age discrimination by accessing this information.

We are disappointed that IMDb has rejected the efforts of Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and other entertainment industry unions, and workers to work together to reach a solution to this problem. It is time for IMDb to step up and take responsibility for the harm it has caused, and to take appropriate measures to protect entertainment industry workers, including actors, from losing jobs for the enhancement of IMDb’s financial statements.
 

 

No mention is made of journalists' interests in having access to accurate facts!

The actors unions have also lobbied the state of California to pass so-called "anti-paparazzi laws" (e.g., trying to forbid the use of telephoto lenses, or coming too close to celebrities, or approaching them too often).

In a September 30, 2005 press release, SAG reports:

 

Following heavy lobbying by Screen Actors Guild, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed into state law legislation that will create stricter penalties for photographers who physically invade the privacy of those they are attempting to photograph or who commit assault in the pursuit of photographs.

The new law, Assembly Bill 381, which was also championed by Assembly member Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando), also makes photographers liable for punitive damages for any proceeds that result from the sale of photos taken under such circumstances.

 

Although this press release is from SAG, AFTRA has always joined SAG in supporting actors over its broadcast journalist members.

 

 

These (seemingly never-ending) "anti-paparazzi laws" are an affront to journalists' First Amendment press freedoms -- and to those of their readers, listeners, and viewers!

The California Newspaper Publishers Association agrees. In 2010, regarding yet another "anti-paparazzi law," Patrick McGreevy and Andrew Blankstein reported for the Los Angeles Times:

 

Despite strong opposition from news organizations, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill cracking down on photographers who drive recklessly in pursuit of celebrities or block sidewalks and create the sense of "false imprisonment" for Hollywood glitterati.

The paparazzi bill, AB 2479 by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), imposes stiff penalties -- including possible jail time -- for photographers who cross the line. Reckless driving and trespassing already are illegal, so singling out photographers for special prosecution is an affront to the 1st Amendment, argued the California Newspaper Publishers Assn.

Bass helped craft the bill with help from Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. She told The Times in August that Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon had discussed their concerns to her about the aggressive actions of the paparazzi.

"Some artists fear there is going to be a terrible accident," Bass said at the time. "This is certainly no attempt to regulate the press."

But the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. argues that laws on the books already allow the prosecution of people who recklessly flout traffic and trespassing laws. Heaping new penalties on violators just because they are seeking photographs, the organization says, is an affront to the 1st Amendment.

Backers praised the governor's decision to sign the bill.

“This new law is specifically targeted to increase public safety,” said Sean Burke, founder and CEO of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative. “In addition to the sheer invasiveness of broadcasting a person’s personal life to hundreds of millions of people worldwide without his or her consent, paparazzi tactics cause severe disruption to the general public."

 

Despite conflicts of interest between actors and journalists, on November 25, 2011, Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon (heads of SAG and AFTRA, respectively), issued a joint statement calling for a merger of their two unions -- and stressing the this would benefit "broadcasters" (many of whom are journalists) and actors equally. They wrote:

 

An improved capacity for organizing is especially vital for broadcasters who, like actors, also need more union-covered work opportunities, and for strengthening our bargaining leverage in individual shops and across markets and employer groups. By focusing our resources and implementing a unified strategy, we can be more effective at turning non-union work into union jobs for members.

 

This is bogus. SAG does not represent broadcasters, so a merged union does not increase their strength. A merger would actually dilute the ability of broadcast journalists to protect their legal interests.

Broadcast journalists should oppose a SAG/AFTRA merger -- unless the merger agreement guarantees that the new union is forever forbidden from lobbying for or against any laws that are contrary to the interests of any of its constituencies.

Every constituency should have veto power over any legislative lobbying. The new union should only focus on issues over which there are no conflicts of interest (e.g., salaries, health insurance, pension, etc.).

No real reason exists to merge AFTRA and SAG. The reason usually given is that a united union has stronger bargaining clout for actors' contracts. But back in the 1990s, AFTRA and SAG used to negotiate actors' contracts jointly, presenting producers with a united front. There's no reason they can't return to joint contract negotiations. Merger is not necessary for that. Merger would only harm AFTRA's non-actor members, further diluting their power in the new union.

 

Mimi Brickmeyer is a Los Angeles based entertainment reporter who has extensively investigated Hollywood's biggest celebrities. Read about her adventures in tabloid journalism in Hollywood Witches.

 

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