Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Court Rejects Curbs on Sex-Oriented Channels ; Forcing Cable Systems to Scramble Signals Violates Free Speech,justices Rule

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Court Rejects Curbs on Sex-Oriented Channels ; Forcing Cable Systems to Scramble Signals Violates Free Speech,justices Rule

Article excerpt

Parents need to take action to protect their children from scrambled glimpses of sexually oriented cable television. The US government is not going to shield their kids' eyes for them.

That's the message of yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court in the case of US v. Playboy Entertainment.

By a 5-to-4 vote, justices ruled that Congress went too far when it required cable TV systems to either fully scramble sex channels or restrict broadcast of those channels to late-night hours. Such restrictions violate First Amendment rights, said justices - especially because another law requires cable operators to completely block any channel for free upon a customer's request.

"The government cannot ban speech if targeted blocking is a feasible and effective means of furthering its compelling interests," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion.

Dissenting justices argued that calling up the cable company and asking for the Spice or Playboy channels to be blocked entirely is in fact an ineffective means of protecting youths from indecent material.

Parents may be unaware of what their children are watching, or unaware of "opt-out" rights, writes Justice Stephen Breyer. Leaving the blocking law in place would offer "independent protection for a large number of families," he writes.

The antismut channel law was a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Its purpose was to act on the complaints of parents who objected to the fact that even though sex-oriented channels are scrambled for nonsubscribers, bits and pieces of the broadcasts still bleed through.

As many as 39 million homes, with 29 million children, are affected by this problem, US government lawyers argued before the court last November.

The law required broadcasters to either fully scramble such indecent channels or restrict their hours of broadcast to between 10 p. …

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