key to cities blocking cable pornography
By Mark A. Kellner
What was once the
province of shady bookstores and back-alley video parlors
is now big business in America’s urban centers. A 2001
estimate put annual cable porn revenues at $2.5 billion, and
there’s been no noticeable slowdown in the porn business
despite an American recession. Even communities with strict
regulations on pornographic video
aren’t regulating pay-per-view porn that is available
on the living room television set.
Worse still, minor
gains in blocking porn have sometimes been reversed. For instance,
Adelphia Corporation made headlines last year when it removed
cable porn channels from a system it acquired in West Hollywood,
Calif. After Adelphia filed bankruptcy, its trustees restored
cable porn in the pay-per-view lineup.
While the high-priced
content — $8 and up per show — could easily hurt
family budgets should an addicted user gain access to a cable
system, even those without television sets in their homes,
let alone cable, could be caught in cable porn’s grip.
Community law enforcement and health services often pick up
the pieces after porn has influenced a crime. Taxpayers, in
turn, pay for those services.
of such material can have a devastating impact on an entire
community. For example, two years ago a video retailer in
Provo, Utah, cited the availability of cable porn in defense
against a charge of trafficking in obscene materials. He was
acquitted when the jury learned that 20,000 X-rated movie
orders were processed for Provo homes each year via cable
and satellite TV providers.
titans are peddling porn to small-town America, according
to Janet M. LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America.
Cable companies make more money from “adult” movies
than other pay-per-view programming, LaRue told PE Report.
Robert W. Peters,
president of watchdog group Morality In Media, says the markup
on pay-per-view porn is 80 to 90 percent, meaning there’s
plenty of profit for cable firms and porn distributors to
LaRue and other
observers — including those inside the pornography business
— note that lax enforcement by the Justice Department
in the 1990s created the impression that selling porn via
cable is acceptable. It isn’t, she asserts. “The
transmission of obscenity via cable is not protected by the
First Amendment,” LaRue says. And, despite the profit
potential such pay-per-view items offer, cable systems certainly
aren’t required to provide porn, she says.
“premium” cable channels such as HBO and Showtime,
which many families block due to the racy content, “pay-per-view”
can be ordered with the press of a remote control button,
a telephone call or even a click on a Web site. Unless the
account holder has blocked such services, the programming
can be seen by anyone in a household with access to the cable
Fighting such battles
is long and lonely work sometimes. Phil Burress of Citizens
for Community Values in Cincinnati says he’s been battling
electronic porn since the Playboy Channel arrived in 1983.
Cable porn has grown dramatically in the Cincinnati area since
is fighting back. Communities in his area have received his
mailings detailing what obscenity is, why it is a danger and
how to block it in future cable franchise agreements. While
it’s not a crime to view pornography, per se, Burress
notes that it is a crime to “pander,” or sell,
such items, as well as to transport them interstate, even
via satellite for delivery on a pay-per-view cable system.
Often, he notes,
communities are unaware that porn is on the menu when a new
cable provider begins service.
case the cities did not know what was coming,” Burress
says. “No one thought they would put hard-core porn
on. Yet with most of these contracts, we have the cities getting
up to 5 percent of the revenue of any pay per view.”
Because of cable
TV’s pervasive reach — more than 96 percent of
the 96.5 million U.S. television households have access to
cable TV lines and therefore could sign up for service —
it’s rare that “new build” cable agreements
will come before most local governments. But Burress, Peters
and LaRue say negotiating renewal agreements and pacts with
new cable suppliers is where governments, led by community
pressure, can have an impact.
stood up and fought these companies, they would back off,”
Peters says. “Communities can engage in strong negotiations
with the cable programming suppliers.”
“The cities are the ones that enter into contracts with
the cable companies,” she says. “If it’s
not going to sell, if the majority of people in a community
are not going to subscribe to pay-per-view pornography, they
should let the council know they’re not buying.”
That happened three
years ago in Greenville, Texas, about an hour north of Dallas.
The city got into the cable business, operating its own system.
When residents learned that the new system was going to offer
pay-per-view “adult” programming, lay and church
leaders undertook a three-month protest, which resulted in
city officials scrapping the porn channel. The substituted
channel offered Christian programming, including local church
where the churches have to weigh in and work together and
get their people out to a city council meeting,” LaRue
says. And, she adds, individuals who call their cable companies
to complain about the availability of pornographic programming
can have an impact as well.