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AIDA's Statement Regarding Its Lawsuit Against the Sopranos

Today, AIDA (the "American Italian Defense Association") filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County for a Declaratory Judgment to vindicate the individual dignity of Italian Americans. The suit is brought against Time Warner Entertainment Company, L.P. because of its distribution in Illinois of the cable TV series known as the "Sopranos" through its HBO division.

AIDA alleges that the Sopranos violates the Individual Dignity clause of the Illinois Constitution which provides:

Individual Dignity. To promote individual dignity, communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue in, or that incite violence, hatred, abuse or hostility toward, a person or group of persons by reason of or by reference to religious, racial, ethnic, national or regional affiliation are condemned.

AIDA seeks neither damages for Time Warner's actions nor a restraint on the showing of the Sopranos. Accordingly, AIDA makes no attempt to infringe upon Time Warner's right of free speech. However, AIDA seeks a Declaratory Judgment from the Circuit Court that various episodes of the Sopranos alone, or the series when taken as a whole, breaches the Individual Dignity clause with respect to Italian Americans as a group.

AIDA is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation with 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Code. AIDA was organized for the purposes of educating the public regarding the contributions of Italian Americans to our society and to oppose by lawful means all forms of negative stereotyping and defamation of Italian Americans.

HBO, the distributor of the Sopranos, is a unit of Time Warner Entertainment and is the nation's most widely distributed pay television service, which together with its sister service, Cinemax, has approximately 35.7 million subscribers throughout the country and is believed to have approximately 3 million subscribers in Illinois. HBO, among other things, defines itself by the exhibition of pay television original movies and mini?series including the Sopranos.

During the years 1999 and 2000, Time Warner Entertainment, through its HBO division has caused the communication and initial and repeated showings on cable television in Illinois of numerous episodes of the Sopranos and has recently announced that it will cause the communication and initial and repeated showings on cable television in Illinois of a new series of episodes of the Sopranos for the 2001 season which began on March 4, 2001.

Agents of AIDA have reviewed numerous episodes of the Sopranos and are of the opinion that one or more of such episodes alone, or the series when taken as a whole, constitute communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue in or that incite violence, hatred, abuse or hostility toward Italian Americans, by reason of or by reference to the ethnic affiliation of various persons portrayed in those episodes.

Contrary to any claim that the Sopranos is merely a fictionalized "Soap Opera" about a mythical upper class suburban family whose paternal head, Tony Soprano, happens to be a mafia boss, the Sopranos is in fact a continuing and ongoing series about the lifestyle of Italian Americans who are portrayed as criminals, depraved or lacking in virtue or are in a manner that incites violence, hatred, abuse or hostility towards Italian Americans by reason of or by reference to their ethnic affiliation. For example, various episodes, or the series taken as a whole, suggests that criminality is in the blood or in the genes of Italian Americans and that Italians as early immigrants to this country, had little opportunity other than to turn to crime. Moreover, non-mafia Italian American characters in the series are often shown to condone or accept (and in many cases to participate in) the violent and profane conduct of the mafia characters leading to the conclusion, inference or suggestion that such conduct is a universal trait of the Italian personality.

Under date of February 26, 2001, AIDA wrote a letter to Mr. Gerald Levin, President of Time Warner Entertainment setting forth its opinions regarding the Sopranos and asked Time Warner Entertainment to recognize that past episodes of the Sopranos constitute communications that breached the Individual Dignity Clause with respect to Italian Americans as a group and to voluntarily take steps to assure that future episodes of the Sopranos would not breach that Clause with respect to Italian Americans or any other group of Americans. While the HBO division of Time Warner Entertainment answered AIDA's letter, it was totally unresponsive to AIDA's requests.

Studies have shown that damaging the reputation of an ethnic group does series harm to members of that group in various ways, including loss of opportunities for education, employment and rejection by society. This harm was recognized many years ago by Justice Frankfurter when he spoke for a majority of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Beauharnais vs. State of Illinois, 343 U.S. 250, 263 (1952).

[A person's] job and his educational opportunities and the dignity accorded him depend as much on the reputation of the racial and religious group to which he . . . belongs, as on his own merits. This being so, we are precluded from saying that speech concededly punishable when immediately directed at individuals cannot be outlawed if directed at groups with whose position and esteem in society the affiliated individual may be inextricably involved.

The Sopranos is a desecration of Italian American traditions: love of family and friends, religion, art and music. By trivializing and associating criminality, violence, incivility, crudeness, vulgarity and dysfunctional family relationships with Italian Americans, the Sopranos harms all Americans and more so Italian Americans whose reputations are being severely damaged by the repeated showings of this program.

This is not the legacy we can allow to be left to our children and grandchildren. Nor can we, in the memory of our mothers, fathers and grandparents, who made that dangerous and fearful crossing to America to give us a better life, permit this defamation to go unchallenged.

For these reasons, AIDA has brought this suit to vindicate the individual dignity of Italian Americans.

AIDA American Italian Defense Association
Three First National Plaza
70 West Madison, Suite 1400, Chicago, Illinois 60602-4270
Phone: 312/214-3346 Fax: 312/214-3110

UPDATE:
Bill Dal Cerro, among who among other important positions in the I-A battle against Defamation, is an officer of AIDA, and reports that:

Last week, HBO's lawyers filed a Motion to Dismiss; (I'm assuming that the Motion is based on an accompanying Motion for Summary Judgment)

However, AIDA is now compiling an Answer, stating why the case should go to trail (using statistics, poll results, media and court examples of defamation, etc.)  May take another month. Stay tuned!)


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