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cr> Supreme Court Strikes Down Public Access Censorship Law

June 28, 1996


Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court today  struck down  a
1992 law authorizing cable company censorship of some types of
constitutionally-protected speech on public, educational, and
governmental (PEG) access channels on cable television. The case,
Alliance for Community Media et al. v. Federal Communications
Commission (FCC),  decided under the name Denver Area Educational
Television Consortium v. Federal Communications Commission, involves
the named petitioners, along with co-petitioners Alliance for
Communications Democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union and
People for the American Way.

"We are thrilled that the Supreme Court agrees that people have the
basic human right to speak for themselves," said Alan Bushong, Chair
of the Alliance for Community Media. "The idea that people in a
democracy have to ask permission to speak is outrageous."

Barry Forbes, Executive Director of the Alliance, stated, "We are
delighted that the Supreme Court has struck down a statute that was
clearly unconstitutional from the very beginning.  The federal
government attempted to use cable operators as 'cover' in order to
censor speech protected by the First Amendment.  The government
should not be permitted to do that without using the least
restrictive means.  Allowing cable operators to use their discretion
to decide what they will and will not allow on PEG access channels
is definitely not the least restrictive means to achieve the state's
purpose.  Had the PEG provision of the statute been upheld, I am
certain we would have seen censorship applied, not only to indecent
speech as defined by the FCC, but any speech which the cable
operator didn't like.  Fortunately, we no longer have to face that
situation. "

The Supreme Court reviewed section 10 of the 1992 Cable Act, a
provision that stemmed from a last-minute Senate floor amendment.
Section 10(c), which was struck down by a plurality of the Court,
would have enabled the operator of a cable television system to
prohibit programming on public, educational or governmental access
cable channels (commonly referred to as "PEG access") based on
content.  Affected programming could have included programs on
breast cancer self-examination, AIDS/HIV prevention, abortion,
childbirth, art censorship, and civil disobedience.

The 1992 statute allowed a cable operator to suppress programming
which contains  so-called "indecent" material, or material
soliciting or promoting unlawful conduct.  Also  struck down were
1993 FCC regulations implementing the statute.  The Court also
struck down Section 10(b) of the 1992 Act, which required cable
operators to segregate and scramble any indecent programming that
appeared on cable "leased access" channels.

Writing for the plurality,  Justice Breyer stated, "Unlike [the
leased access provision], Section 10(c) does not restore to cable
operators editorial rights that they once had, and the
countervailing First Amendment interest [of cable operators] is
nonexistent, or at least much diminished."  Justice Kennedy, in a
concurring opinion, stated, "Sections 10(a) and (c) present a
classic case of discrimination against speech based on its content.
There are legitimate reasons why the Government might wish to
regulate or even restrict the speech at issue here, but Sections
10(a) and 10(c) are not drawn to address those reasons with the
precision the First Amendment requires."

Forbes stated, "This case has enormous implications, not only for
the content of television programming, but for freedom of expression
and the right of privacy on any electronic medium which the federal
government attempts to regulate.  An adverse decision would have
expanded the rights of the government to decide what people can say
and what viewers can see over the cable medium." Lead counsel I.
Michael Greenberger, of the law firm of Shea & Gardner, provided pro
bono representation for the Alliance petitioners before the FCC, in
both phases of the D.C. Circuit proceedings, and before the Supreme
Court.   Legal assistance was also provided by staff attorneys at
People for the American Way and the Media Access Project. Both
Greenberger and FCC Cable Services Bureau Chief Meredith Jones will
be keynote speakers at the Alliance's annual conference on July 17
to 20 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, in the Washington DC area.

The Alliance for Community Media is a national, non-profit
membership organization committed to assuring everyone's access to
electronic media. The Alliance accomplishes this by disseminating
public information, advancing a positive legislative and regulatory
environment, building coalitions, and supporting local organizing.
Founded in 1976, the Alliance represents the interests of over 950
public, educational and governmental ("PEG") access organizations
and local origination cable services throughout the country. The
Alliance also represents the interests of local religious,
community, charitable and other organizations throughout the country
who utilize PEG access channels and facilities to speak to their
memberships and their larger communities.

-- 30 --
Alliance for Community Media
666 11th Street, NW, Suite 806, Washington, DC 20001-4542
Voice: (202) 393-2650  Fax: (202) 393-2653
"Ensuring everyone's access to electronic media since 1976."

Barry Forbes, Executive Director
"Do what's right. Do it right. Do it right now."

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