TEXAS — In what may be the first obscenity prosecution against a public access channel, the host and producer of a two-hour “Infosex” feature last August on Austin Community Television in late April were placed on a year’s probation and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
In August, Gareth Rees hosted and Terrell Johnson produced a regular monthly feature entitled Infosex on safe sex which aired between midnight and 2 a.m. The two-hour August program included a three-minute segment showing two men engaging in sex acts while wearing condoms. The three-minute video had been produced by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an education and advocacy group in New York.
The public-access channel suspended Johnson and took the show off the air but Travis County prosecutor Ken Odum nonetheless charged the two with obscenity and with recklessly displaying harmful material to minors and a grand jury indicted them.
In early April a county court jury viewed the three-minute segment and found Rees and Johnson guilty of obscenity. The jury acquitted them of the charge involving minors however after attorneys for the two argued that a warning preceded the show and that it aired at an hour when minors were not likely to be in the audience.
The attorneys had also argued that the video did not fit the definition of obscenity, which must appeal to “prurient interest” when “taken as a whole” and must lack value. They said the video should have been considered in context, along with the rest of the two-hour program.
In late April Judge Brenda Kennedy sentenced the two to probation and community service. Attorneys said they would appeal.
(Texas v. Rees and Texas v. Johnson; Counsel: Peter Kennedy, Austin)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.