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B-TV to get city scrutiny

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 15, 2002

Council bans sexually-explicit shows before midnight 


Tuesday evening City Council paved the way for what some are touting as the most stringent television-regulation policy in the nation and others say is needed protection from pornography. 

In a 7-1 vote councilmembers approved a proposal that forces “adult” and “sexually explicit” programs to air only after 12 midnight and before 6 a.m. on the community’s two public television stations. 

Currently, most stations adhere to a 10 p.m. Federal Communications Commission guideline for so-called “implicit” programming — a guideline that First Amendment challenges have shown optional. But Berkeley leaders say, with the new ordinance, the courts are on their side. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, at Tuesday’s meeting, said that it was the will of the Supreme Court to safeguard children from sex on television. The city could legally enforce “time-segragation” rules, she affirmed. 

Since free-speech laws prevent the city’s public stations, run by Berkeley Community Media, from pre-screening programs for content, Berkeley’s new ordinance sets up a review process and staff member to provide “oversight” and “ultimate authority” over programming. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington represented the only vote against the ordinance. 

“The last thing our city needs is to be involved in the censorship of public access,” he said Monday night, labeling the ordinance a “needless threat to free speech.” 

At least one community member has already threatened a lawsuit against the city, on grounds that his First Amendment rights will be violated. 

But Councilmember Miriam Hawley insisted the new ordinance was “not censorship,” just “rescheduling.” She added that the city of Seattle has adopted a similar ordinance which has had no legal challenges. 

The television-rescheduling ordinance must be heard by councilmembers at another meeting before it takes effect.