News

TCI Asks Court for Public-Access Guidance

6/07/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

Tele-Communications Inc. has asked a U.S. District Court to
determine whether certain programs on its local public-access channel in Seattle are
obscene.

The MSO wants a declaratory judgment upholding its decision
to drop four weekly programs airing on a PEG-access (public, educational and government)
channel that reaches some 400,000 area subscribers.

In its lawsuit, TCI alleged that the programs -- produced
by defendants Mike Aivaz and T.J. Williamson -- "expressly promote pornography,"
and that they are only edited to delete portions that are "not graphic depictions of
explicit sexual conduct."

In dropping the programs, the operator was responding to
subscriber complaints about content that was becoming increasingly bawdy.

"It had escalated to explicit, up-close, hard-core
pornography," said Marshall Nelson, a TCI attorney with Seattle-based law firm Davis,
Wright, Tremaine.

But its decision to pull the programs still left the MSO
between a "rock and a hard place," Nelson added.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, TCI cannot
exercise editorial control over what appears on the PEG-access channel that it manages for
the city of Seattle. At the same time, however, it's required to keep pornography off
its cable system or face being found criminally liable.

In order to protect itself from potential First Amendment
lawsuits by Aivaz and Williamson, TCI asked the court to rule on whether their programming
was obscene, which would support the MSO's decision to drop it

It's also asking for "guidance" from the
court on what restrictions its can reasonably place on future programming appearing on its
PEG-access channel.

While it awaits the court's ruling, TCI has restored
Williamson's programs, entitled Fulfilling Your Fantasies and Adventure TV.
Aivaz's offerings, Mike Hunt's Get Your Friend Laid Tonight and The
Mike Hunt Show
, remain off the air.

TCI is negotiating with Aivaz to restore his programming,
but only under certain restrictions, Nelson said.

Mark Levy, a local attorney representing Aivaz on behalf of
the American Civil Liberties Union, said his client is waiting for TCI's proposal to
see what limitations would be placed on his programming while the suit is settled.

"But Mr. Aivaz intends to vigorously defend this
lawsuit and his right to air his programming without any restrictions," Levy said.

TCI hasn't gotten much help from the city, which
declined to offer an opinion on the programming. Instead, Seattle officials said, the
decision was "part of TCI's obligation as designated access manager for the
public-access channel."

Nevertheless, TCI and Seattle officials ironed out a set of
guidelines last year requiring that such shows air in the 1 a.m. time slot, MSO spokesman
Steve Kipp said.

But this did not satisfy some outraged TCI subscribers.

One went so far as to send a tape of one of the programs to
the company's corporate headquarters in Denver. By last month, the decision had been
made to remove the programs from the schedule.

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