Berkeley Voice

Vote may force risque shows to wee hours
Council opts to banish cable-access programs with sexual content to after midnight; foes cry censorship
By Clare Curley

Berkeley TV's Susan Block Show will no longer be permitted to boldly eschew sexual taboos before midnight, in light of a near-unanimous City Council recommendation this week.

The City Council voted 7-1 in favor of a proposal requiring that "adult" and "sexually explicit" programs air after midnight and before 6 a.m. on the community's two public television stations. Dona Spring abstained from the vote.

The majority of council members said they were responding to complaints of families in their districts about some salacious programming that has been airing after 10 p.m.

To the outrage of free-speech advocates, councilwomen Polly Armstrong, Mim Hawley and Betty Olds insisted that they were merely rescheduling the programs, not censoring them.

Councilman Kriss Worthington, the lone dissenter, spoke out against the change, saying it was a matter of protecting the First Amendment.

"If the U.S. constitution were to be voted on today by this council, it would be doomed to failure," he said, adding the recommendation could also be applied to popular shows such as "Sex in the City."

"I don't think this ordinance would mean that. Other communities are doing similar things," Hawley said.

Two more hearings are required before the ordinance goes through, which could take several months.

The vote was primarily targeted at two shows that start at either 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on the day. Berkeley Community Media oversees local public access and is primarily funded by the city.

One of them, "Frank Moore's Unlimited Possibilities," is a 21/2-hour Berkeley-based variety show that purports to feature "great bands, deep conversations, uncensored videos, and surprises from the unknown."

Moore called the vote "shocking," adding that his show is mainly filled with interviews. "It's funny, most cities complain that the interviews on (my) show are boring," he said. "They prefer the music and art."

The other -- and more controversial -- program is the Los Angeles-based "Dr. Susan Block Show," which has depicted sexual acts taking place between couples while viewers look on, as well as self-stimulation demonstrations.

Councilwoman Linda Maio said she was shocked at the content when she recently tuned in to the show. Still, she and Spring said they would have preferred to take on prime-time violence, a bigger concern for them, and indicated they were responding to their constituents.

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque produced a report based on a Supreme Court hearing that allows local governments to impose such restrictions to protect children. "We haven't heard from any lawyers or the ACLU suggesting this analysis is wrong."

But Worthington argued the vote could still open the city to a lawsuit, warning that the city's conclusion was based on a single case in Seattle. He added that he had received e-mails and calls opposing the recommendation.

The issue didn't attract a lot of attention this time around, and the City Hall chambers were nearly empty when the vote was made.

At least one resident at the meeting, however, was surprised and disappointed with the vote.

"I find it personally disgusting that we are allowed to show all kinds of (brutality on television), but when we represent people's bodies ... we find it patently offensive," said Jen Neuber, a graduate film studies student at UC Berkeley.

Clare Curley can be reached at 243-3576 or

© 2001 cctimes and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Back to Censorship Home

Back to FMUP home