As End of Legislative Session Nears, Free Speech Under Attack <br> Non-profit Urges Station to Resume Airing Ad
In the last days before the end of Albany's legislative session, Governor Pataki had a television advertisement urging meaningful reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws pulled from Univision, a Spanish language network. The ads were sponsored by the Center for Policy Reform, a 501(c)4 affiliate of the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance.
Last Thursday, Governor Pataki's Director of Criminal Justice, Chauncey Parker, wrote a letter to Univision requesting that the 30 second advertisement featuring family members of people serving time under the Rockefeller drug laws be taken of the air. Parker alleged that the ad was intentionally false and misleading, calling them "blatantly untruthful advertisements about Governor Pataki's proposal to reform the Rockefeller drug laws."In a letter responding to Univision's decision to stop running the ad, Deborah Small, director of public policy and community outreach at the Drug Policy Alliance, stressed that the focus of the ad was not the Governor's proposal, but the impact of the drug laws on thousands of New Yorkers who have family members serving long prison terms for non-violent drug offenses. She wrote:
We believe your decision to accede to this request from the Executive was both unfortunate and unnecessary. We assert and maintain our constitutionally protected First Amendment right to advocate on the issue of Rockefeller drug law reform free of inappropriate government interference.
The Governor has been criticized recently for not fulfilling his promise of real reform of the harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Reform advocates believe that this recent move shows Governor Pataki's particular concern about the Latino community, whose vote is potentially vital to his reelection in November.
"There is nothing more important to our democratic form of government than the open exchange of ideas," stated Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, Chairman of the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. "The debate over the reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and any debate on policy issues impacting our communities should not be interfered with."
A Virginia-based firm, hired by Governor Pataki's office, found a minor mistake in the ad's voiceover. In her letter to Univision, Small wrote:
The first sentence [Parker] complains about is a statement in the ad that says, "Thousands of New Yorkers have a family member behind bars for mandatory minimum sentences of (up to) 30 years to life because of the Rockefeller Drug Laws." The mistake was in the Spanish translation of the original text which should have used the number '25' years instead of 30 years and neglected to include the words "up to" as a qualifier of the 25 years to life sentence. To correct this error we brought our technical people back in to re-record the narrative portion of the ad.
Drug Policy Alliance and Center for Policy Reform expect that the new version of the ad will begin airing on Univision later this week.