Berkeley Daily Planet
Friday, July 19, 2002
City may regulate public TV
by Kurtis Alexander
Daily Planet Staff
Berkeley leaders are poised to move forward with what may be the most
restrictive television-oversight policy in California next week.
The policy would require adult-oriented programming on the citys
two public television stations, Channels 25 and 78, to air only after
In most cities in the nation the time for showing adult material comes
two hours earlier and is voluntary, according to guidelines set by the
Federal Communications Commission.
The Freedom to be Human Ball is one of the controversial
shows to have aired on public access tv, and could be restricted to early
morning hours under a proposal in front of City Council.
The Berkeley plan would establish a committee to provide "oversight
and ultimate authority" and ensure that no producer skirts the new
The proposal was first put forth in May, following a small uproar over
the "Dr. Susan Block Show," which airs at 10:30 p.m. Fridays,
featuring a lingerie-clad sex therapist who has encouraged women to masturbate
and explore sensual touching on air.
On May 14, City Council directed that restrictions for such shows be packaged
as a formal ordinance. This Tuesday, council members will vote on whether
to adopt the new ordinance. The measure requires a second reading and
a second vote of support before it is enacted.
Seven of the citys nine council members have already thrown support
behind the ordinance. During May deliberations, Councilmember Kriss Worthington
was the only vote against creation of the ordinance, and Councilmember
Dona Spring abstained.
"Some people are outraged that when they turn on their public station
at 10 oclock there is something indecent on," said Councilmember
Miriam Hawley. Hawley, along with council members Polly Armstrong and
Betty Olds, is sponsoring the proposal.
A primary goal of the proposal is to protect children from seeing sexually
While most agree with the need for child oversight, some say its
not the citys job.
"As far as I see it, the BCM [Berkeley Community Media] stations
are the only television stations that are even remotely uncensored,"
said Berkeley resident Marty Kent. "Itd be a shame to see City
Council censor the last remaining channels."
Kent is joined by a number of First Amendment rights activists. Citing
Supreme Court findings, the activists note that public access television
stations cannot censor so-called "indecent" programming and
are required to air all locally submitted and sponsored materials. The
only exception, they say, is "obscene" material which legal
experts agree is nearly impossible to classify.
Most television stations voluntarily adhere to a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. window
for airing "indecent" programming, called a "safe harbor."
Embracing the First Amendment argument is Berkeley attorney James Chanin.
Chanin, a civil rights advocate, joined the ACLU in successfully suing
the city in 1992 over a controversial panhandling ordinance. Chanin says
the city is inviting similar lawsuits if it adopts the television restrictions
before them now.
"There is no legitimate reason why the city of Berkeley should adopt
this unprecedented attempt to regulate the free speech rights of its citizens,"
Chanin said in a written statement to council. "By doing so, the
city will be restricting the rights of its adult citizens to produce and
access legal material."
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque disagreed.
"The city may, consistent with the First Amendment, impose time-segregation
rules for indecent programming on BTV for the purposes of protecting children
from lewd programming," Albuquerque said in a written statement to
Brian Scott, Berkeley Community Medias executive director, says
that the television station cannot afford to take on the legal risk of
time-segregation rules, but it respects the citys efforts.
If the ordinance passes, a city-sponsored commission will address viewer
complaints and direct BCM on how to take action, Scott speculated.
Opposition to the citys ordinance had been organized and at least
one protest had been scheduled until last week.
A planned anti-censorship demonstration for Berkeleys Ashkenaz theater
was canceled when theater officials found out that there was going to
be nudity during one of the performances, according to Frank Moore, a
local television producer.
"They didnt seem to get the irony," Moore said.
Ashkenaz staff could not be reached for comment.
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