Berkeley cable TV debates free speech in light of video sexuality

By Craig Hampshire Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday April 17, 2002

Sexually explicit material and its appropriateness at certain hours of the night are hot topics in Berkeley, especially for viewers of B-TV Channel 25. 

For this reason, Berkeley Community Media has set up two live televised discussions about public access programming, censorship and free speech. This “Viewer Discretion Advised” program will take place on April 22 and April 29 from 7 to 7:30 p.m., and seeks to address viewers’ questions and concerns about questionable content and restrictions on adult programming on Channel 25. 

According to Brian Scott, the executive director of BCM, a number of complaints about controversial or sexually-explicit material have come into the station. BCM directed these directed the complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates these things, or to the district attorney’s office. 

“There was a specific show, the Dr. Susan Block Show,” Scott said. “Two members of the community came into a Board meeting in February and complained about it.” 

Svetlana and Ray Couture were chiefly concerned because it was on very early and that its content was “unpredictable.” 

This type of programming went on the air beginning at 10 p.m. initially. After the complaints, the Board decided to move any material that involves two naked people having sex to the hours of 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. 

After 25 people showed up at the next Board meeting in protest, the it went back to 10 p.m. The arguments for freedom of speech and against censorship convinced the Board of a revote — with the stipulation of having a public forum to address these issues. 

A large part of the controversy surrounds the FCC’s rules governing indecency verses obscenity. The FCC does not protect obscenity, such as pornography. 

“It is very difficult pinning down what exactly the FCC means when it says obscene material,” Scott said.  

Material is deemed obscene if three conditions are met. The program taken as a whole has to appeal to the prurient interest of the average person applying contemporary community standards. It also has to display or describe in patently offensive ways sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law, and the material as a whole has to lack serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value, according to the FCC. Information about obscenity can be found at www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/obscene.html. 

Indecent programming, however, may be broadcast during certain hours of the night. Indecency is defined as language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities, according to the FCC. Indecent programming does not rise to the level of obscenity. 

This controversial and often confusing law will be addressed by opposing parties during the two forums. Joan Levinson, a producer at BCM, will moderate both discussions. Levinson said that she was asked to do this and did not choose the subject. 

“I usually ask the questions and then let people on all sides of the issue talk,” Levinson said. “If it gets too raucous, I step in. This is an attempt to educate the public with as much information on all sides as possible. It is a hot topic in the culture.” 

On April 22, BCM Board members Jill Martinucci and Allan Charles (Chuck) Miller will be on hand to answer questions, while Svetlana Couture and several sponsors of the B-TV program Unlimited Possibilities will debate on April 29. Berkeley residents may call in at (510) 848-5483 or 8939 to ask questions. For more information, call (510) 848-2288.