Public Access Porn Case Goes National

AKRON, Ohio – Religious leaders and porn purveyors alike are condemning a local cable access ordinance as censorship, and other communities nationwide are fighting similar restrictions.

Akron’s Channel 15 accidentally broadcast pornographic images last Christmas morning, and the ensuing community outcry prompted the station to impose a $25 fee for content providers and to require proof that public access producers and their subjects were local.

“I find the new rules offensive and a denial of our rights to access TV," said Rabbi David A. Lipper of Akron’s Temple of Israel synagogue. The price burden, he said, keeps the synagogue from broadcasting services to shut-ins and people curious about Judaism.

The original offending images were aired during an accidental broadcast of “Illmatic TV,” a show produced by Al Henderson of neighboring Canton. The program, which featured interviews with local performers and artists but which also occasionally showed porn scenes sent to Henderson by a Los Angeles friend, was usually scheduled at 1 a.m.

Akron’s restrictions keep Henderson and similar producers from broadcasting because their programs’ performers aren’t Akron residents. While Akron officials deny claims that former producers’ First Amendment rights are being trampled, similar battles are being waged across the country.

Rose Wilcher, whose “Democracy Now!” is no longer on Channel 15 because it sometimes featured people who weren’t local, said, "There is a whole world outside of Akron and now [city officials] are saying I can't even go into the local suburbs with my camera."

Wilcher is suing the city of Akron and cable provider Time Warner in federal court.

City and cable company officials say the issue is not censorship, but cost and scheduling. Akron’s conflict highlights troubles concerning community standards nationwide. What is acceptable in one community might not be acceptable one town over.

Communities from California to Missouri have battled city councils to reinstate public access programming that was pulled due to various disputes.

"It's pretty much been left up to the determination of the city councils and the cable companies, which is not enough," Roger Martin, president of Los Angeles’ Public Access Awareness Association, said. "We need guidelines. We need to tell people what to expect.”