Scrambled legs Cable TV: Supreme Court rightly ruled that porn channels shouldn't 'sneak' into homes.

March 28, 1997

IF LAST WEEK'S Supreme Court hearing about indecency on the Internet was dubbed the most important First Amendment case in a quarter-century, what does that make this week's decision to block pornography on scrambled cable channels?

The most important one in four days?

Indeed, the court's decision Monday wasn't a major milepost along the superhighway of free speech, but a stop sign on a side road -- a dirty, little dead-end caused by sloppy technology.

Parents who do not pay to receive pornographic services on cable channels such as Playboy Television or Spice Entertainment should not have to worry that their children might huddle around the tube trying to decipher semi-fuzzed images of bodies in heat, moaning and groaning, because the unsubscribed porn channel failed to scramble its transmission sufficiently.

Indeed, a cable operator who could charge someone with theft for pirating its pay-for-view signal can hardly make the case that the same person doesn't have a right not to have that same porn channel in their home if he or she expressly refuses to pay for it.

The court ruled the Federal Communications Commission could enforce the section of the telecommunication overhaul that President Clinton signed into law last year. It requires that cable operators completely scramble adults-only programming.

Since attorneys for Playboy and Spice said they could not guarantee against "signal bleed," they would likely have to restrict their programming to between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when the law allows.

Contrary to the attorneys' protest, this issue does not infringe on free speech any more than the protected X-rating at a porn movie house that keeps out minors. Neither is this issue a matter of parental accountability; these are instances of parents trying to keep something out of their home that keeps getting in anyway.

This Supreme Court decision will be welcomed by the public, with the possible exception of porn channel aficionados who work night shifts.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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