City May Censor Risque TV Shows

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Advocates of Berkeley's public access channel spoke out against members of the Berkeley City Council yesterday, for supporting a bill that advocates said would censor sexually explicit material on television.

At the center of the debate were two late-night shows, "The Dr. Susan Block Show" and "Unlimited Possibilities," which feature nudity, sexual language and occasional demonstrations of sexual acts. Both air on the city's public access channel BTV-25 before midnight three times a week.

Councilmember Betty Olds headed the opposition to the programs, calling them "obscene" and hoping to push the shows to the midnight time slot. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission allows adult programming on public access channels after 10 p.m.

"The things they're showing should only be seen on pornos when people know and expect what they're getting," Olds said.

But producers of the show, who admitted their shows were sexually explicit, accused Olds of trying to censor a valuable community resource.

"Sure, I'm offended by my show sometimes, but I want to honestly portray sex in all its glory, danger, fun and foolishness," said television sex therapist Susan Block, who hosts and produces what she calls a "sex education program." "Just as a cooking show takes place in a kitchen with an apron and chef's hat, I run my show in a bedroom with the tools of my trade."

Frank Moore produces "Unlimited Possibilities," which is described on the show's Web site as "a variety show including live music, deep conversations, uncensored videos and surprises from the unknown."

According to regulations from the Federal Communications Commission, television shows can only be removed on grounds of being deemed "indecent" if they fall under a three-pronged definition-the average person must find that the material appeals to a prurient interest, material must offensively depict or describe sexual conduct as defined by law and the material as a whole must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

"As far as I can tell, no one can tell me which program meets all three criteria of indecency," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. "Who is going to be the person to decide what is indecent?"

Block said her show has a strong educational premise because it features a call-in segment for viewers to ask their own sexual health questions.

Councilmember Dona Spring agreed with Block, saying the city should not impose more regulations on the shows.

"In my opinion, there is an important educational proponent (in these shows)," Spring said. "I suppose the issue of sexuality isn't comfortable for some folks, but we can't violate their First Amendment right."

Olds said there have been numerous complaints from Berkeley residents about the sexually explicit nature of the shows and their pre-midnight time slot, but Block and Moore denied Olds' claim.

The Berkeley chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supported the shows' producers, advocating BTV has a First Amendment right to continue to air the programs.

"While claiming they want to protect kids, they are denying adults the right to view these protected materials," said UC Berkeley junior Dan Komarek, who serves as Berkeley ACLU co-president. "It's not unreasonable for us to hope that parents can monitor their own children's viewing habits."

Councilmember Polly Armstrong said moving the shows to later times would not be censorship.

UC Berkeley professor Mel Gordon of the Center for Theater Arts, who has been a guest on Block's show, said the complaints about the show signified its artistic value.

"The whole purpose of comedy and tragedy is to deal with taboos," he said.

The City Council plans to vote on the bill this month.


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