Alliance v. FCC to Supreme Court [cr-95/11/14]


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   : November 13, 1995
CONTACT: BARRY FORBES (202) 393-2650


Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will
review the constitutionality of a 1992 law authorizing cable company
censorship of some types of constitutionally-protected speech on some cable
television access channels.  The case, Alliance for Community Media et al. v.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC),  involves the named petitioner,
along with co-petitioners Alliance for Communications Democracy and People
for the American Way.  The case will be decided in conjunction with a
companion case also brought against the FCC by the '90s Channel and the
American Civil Liberties Union

Barry Forbes, Executive Director of the Alliance for Community Media, stated,
"The very idea of the government authorizing cable TV operators to regulate
the content of public access channels is ludicrous! More than likely, the
cable TV operators would nix programs that merely hint at being
controversial. We believe programming should be held to community standards
as determined by the courts -- and we're delighted the Supreme Court has
chosen to review this important government censorship case."

The Alliance and the co-petitioners are appealing the June 6, 1995 decision
of the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Alliance for Community Media et
al. v. FCC (56 F.3d 105). The Supreme Court will be reviewing a section of
the 1992 Cable Act that stems from a last-minute Senate floor amendment.

The section under challenge enables the operator of a cable television system
to prohibit programming on public, educational or governmental access cable
channels (commonly referred to as "PEG access") based on content.  Affected
programming could include programs on the AIDS/HIV epidemic, abortion,
childbirth, art censorship, and civil disobedience.

As written, the 1992 statute allows a cable operator to suppress programming
which contains  so-called "indecent" material, or material soliciting or
promoting unlawful conduct.  Also being challenged are 1993 FCC regulations
implementing the statute.

"This case has enormous implications, not only for the content of television
programming, but for freedom of expression and the right of privacy on any
electronic medium which the federal government attempts to regulate," stated
Forbes.  "An adverse decision could expand the rights of the government to
decide what people can say and what viewers can see over the cable medium."

Originally, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found
that the 1992 provision violated the First Amendment, which probits
government interference with free expression and communication.  The initial
opinion would have struck down the provision, and consequently prohibited
operators of cable television systems from censoring any materials protected
by the First Amendment. However, the FCC asked for and received a rehearing
by the entire appeals court for of the District of Columbia circuit.  The
eleven-member court overturned the previous panel's determination, holding
that any censorship that might occur on PEG and leased access channels would
be a legitimate exercise of editorial discretion by the cable operator,
incidental to its proprietary rights.  Because, according to the court, the
actions would be those of private entities against other private entities,
the censorship would not be subject to the same level of judicial scrutiny
under the First Amendment as direct government censorship.

"We believe that the D.C. Circuit dismissed the First Amendment jurisprudence
on 'state action' and 'public forum,' doctrines," stated Forbes. "The earlier
decision missed the point that public and leased access channels were created
as public fora by federal, state and local laws.  As government-created
entities, they should be subject to the most rigorous First Amendment
protections.  We're pleased that the Supreme Court will give us an
opportunity to settle this important point."

The law firm of Shea & Gardner, which represented the Alliance petitioners
before the FCC and in both phases of the D.C. Circuit proceedings, will
continue its pro-bono services to the Alliance and co-plaintiffs.
Representation will also be provided by staff attorneys at People for the
American Way and the Media Access Project.

The Alliance for Community Media is a national, non-profit membership
organization committed to assuring everyone's access to electronic media. The
Alliance accomplishes this by disseminating public information, advancing a
positive legislative and regulatory environment, building coalitions, and
supporting local organizing. Founded in 1976, the Alliance represents the
interests of over 950 public, educational and governmental ("PEG") access
organizations and local origination cable services throughout the country.
The Alliance also represents the interests of local religious, community,
charitable and other organizations throughout the country who utilize PEG
access channels and facilities to speak to their memberships and their larger

-- 30 --
Alliance for Community Media
666 11th Street, NW, Suite 806, Washington, DC 20001-4542
Voice:  (202) 393-2650
Fax:            (202) 393-2653
"Ensuring everyone's access to electronic media
since 1976."

Barry Forbes, Executive Director
"Do what's right. Do it right. Do it right now."

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