Court upholds law requiring full blocking of explicit shows
DELAWARE–In late March, the Supreme Court in Dover unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision upholding a law requiring sex- oriented cable television shows to be blocked from those who do not subscribe to the services providing them.
Playboy and Spice Entertainment, both of which cater to viewers who pay for the programming, challenged part of the Communications Decency Act which states that providers of sexually-explicit programming should ensure that only those paying for the service receive it, and those who do not should be protected from viewing the shows.
Playboy argued that the measure violated its free speech rights since the law gives the option of either fully blocking the programming from non-subscribers or televising the material only between the “safe harbor” hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., during which children are less likely to be in the viewing audience.
Playboy and Spice chose to show their programs at night due to the expense of full scrambling, but contended they have a right to televise during the day. The programmers also argued that people who do not want the cable service have the option of having a specific channel blocked on request. However, the government asserted that not all television viewers are aware of this alternative.
Although most cable operators “scramble” such programming, the shows are not always fully blocked. Some subscribers complained that their children, who were not paying customers, could still view the shows. “Signal bleed” allows some or all of the programming to be seen and heard due to flaws of the scrambling. (Playboy Entertainment Group v. U.S.; Media Counsel: Robert Corn- Revere, Washington, D.C.)