Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Dear Editor,

I was just informed by Council member Kriss Worthington that the proposed ordinance that would censor our Berkeley cable public access channel (25) is on the City Council's agenda for tonight's meeting. This extremely dangerous adventure in censorship is focused on limiting the audience of just two shows, my UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES and THE SUSAN BLOCK SHOW. It came about after the staff of B-TV refused to censor the shows or move them to the time ghetto of 2 a.m., after the board of BERKELEY COMMUNITY MEDIA...which is the nonprofit that runs B-TV...thought better of adopting such a censorious plan after listening to a packed room of citizens concerned with protecting our freedom of speech. This ordinance would by-pass the B-TV staff and the BCM board and would allow the City Council to dictate what is shown when on what is supposed to be the people's free speech channel. It is always dangerous when politicians...no matter how good their intentions, no matter what their philosophy...try to control art, expression, and communication of us, the people. The public access channel is supposed to be where the voices, our voices, which are blocked out on the corporate media, can be heard. It is supposed to be a democratic channel, open to everyone in the community, providing a rich, exciting, challenging exchange of ideas, cultures, etc. This exchange can/will offend some. This is always the price of free speech. This is why the courts have said our shows on public access cannot be censored.

This ordinance is an attempt to limit this democratic channel of ours. Council member Betty Olds, who is pushing this bad law, is on record as saying: "Disgusting! It shouldn't be allowed to be put on! I would be willing to forego having that channel (25)...and I know that the majority of the citizens feel the same way." This is shockingly disrespectful of OUR channel, of OUR freedom of speech. It also shows that the intent and the goal of this ordinance are to censor what THEY find disgusting. Council members Olds and Armstrong have bemoaned publicly that they cannot out right ban the shows.

And they can't "censor" the shows. So they use the children as the excuse to move the shows to after midnight to "protect the children." I do believe most on the council really believe they are protecting the children. But if they reflect a little, the "protection" goes up in smoke. As I understand it, the ordinance sets up three classes of programs: before 10pm programs would be suitable for children; after 10pm would be "not suitable for children"; after midnight would be "explicit sexual"...whatever that is! If the shows between 10pm and midnight are not suitable for kids, how are we protecting kids by moving one kind of content, "EXPLICIT SEX," to after midnight? We are not! How are we protecting kids by making different rules for B-TV to follow? We are not! The kids can just switch the channel! In reality, television is not kid safe or kid friendly at any time of day or night...the news, the commercials, even the so-called kid shows. The only real way to protect kids from television is to watch television with them, helping them to develop critical skills, standards, and rules. Then they can watch television!

This ordinance does not protect children. It does punish us producers who challenge people like Olds. And it requires us producers to label the content of our work with some vague term like "sexually explicit" so it can be censored. If you refuse, your program automatically goes after midnight...as punishment! If you say it is not "sexually explicit" and a viewer complains, the show is examined by an inspector...appointed, i'm assuming, by the City Council. If this inspector finds the particular episode is indeed "sexually explicit," your program will be moved to the time ghetto of after midnight. I have not seen the actual proposed ordinance. I am basing this on the information given out when the Council asked the city attorney to draw up the ordinance.

This Kafka-like ordinance greatly limits our free speech, sets up the Council...and anyone who feels like complaining...with the censoring power over OUR channel, and over US. Be clear. Moving what some call "sexually explicit" to a time ghetto opens up the possibility of the Council moving other DANGEROUS content to an ever-shrinking time ghetto. Moreover, other city councils, not as liberal as Berkeley, may (will!) use this Berkeley model to limit access to DANGEROUS ideas such as gay rights, equality, rap, etc. Do we in Berkeley really want to be responsible for unleashing this censorship on the land? I am hopeful that when the majority thinks about it, they will stick with our traditional Berkeley community value of free speech!

These are the dangers of this ordinance in the big picture. But allow me to end by talking about the "small" picture of how this would censor my show and audience. My show, as well as Susan Block's, are politically, culturally, and artistically radical. My show is a two and half hour variety show offering in-depth conversations about issues that effect us all with a wide range of people, live music, and cutting edge performances, films, and art. Although I get complaints that the show has too much talk, what Olds finds objectionable is the cutting edge art...the same kind of art that got me targeted by Sen. Jesse Helms in the early 90's. This cutting edge art would get the show exiled to after midnight. Moving the show after midnight denies people easy access to it in a very intrusive way. It denies the show "foot traffic," cutting down the number of people discovering the show. It is like moving a store from Shattuck and University to Dwight Way and 8th...or limiting a politician to halls of 50 or less. Imagine the uproar!

Again I have faith that the majority on the Council will see the light...if we show them the light!

Frank Moore

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