For the past couple of years, the studios' Oscar campaigns have seemed as nasty and vicious as the dames in ''Chicago'' or the streetfighters in ''Gangs of New York.'' Having promised to clamp down on the worst excesses, the Academy announced Wednesday that it was strengthening its enforcement of campaign guidelines, which it says are no longer ''guidelines'' but now ''rules.'' Next winter, any studio that violates the rules could face a penalty more severe than the usual loss of tickets to the awards ceremony; they could see their film disqualified.
''There will now be personal consequences to improper campaigning,'' Academy President Frank Pierson said in a statement. According to the new rules, ''Any Academy member who has authorized, approved or executed a campaign activity that is determined by the Board of Governors to have undermined the letter or spirit of these regulations will be subject to suspension of membership or expulsion from the Academy.'' More serious violations ''could result in a film losing its eligibility for Awards consideration.''
Academy executive administrator Ric Robertson says the new rules tighten the definition of what sort of unsolicited promotional items may not be sent to voters, but the major change is a ban on ''any form of advertising that includes quotes or comments by Academy members.'' The catalyst for that change was a March print ad for ''Gangs of New York'' that reproduced in its entirety a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed piece attributed to former Academy president Robert Wise, the two-time Oscar-winning director of ''West Side Story'' and ''The Sound of Music.'' Many irate Oscar voters saw the Miramax ad as a violation of the rule prohibiting campaigners from soliciting Academy members to reveal their votes. As it turned out, the Wise editorial was ghostwritten by publicist Murray Weissman, who is a member of the Academy's public relations branch executive committee, the same committee that just revised the rules. However, Weissman was not present at the committee meeting where the new rules were adopted, Academy spokesman John Pavlik tells EW.com.