A cable-industry spokesman expressed relief Thursday that the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography didn't recommend that "any significant action be taken against cable," even though at times during its work the commission seemed to confuse hard-core pornography with "mainstream entertainment" on cable TV.
"Overall, we're relieved because we made enough progress with them to get them to back off," said James Mooney, president of the Washington-based National Cable Television Assn., which represents about 75% of the 40 million cable-subscriber business.
He said that there is nothing that could be considered hard-core pornography now being shown by the 2,400 companies in the cable association, including cable operations owned by Warners Bros., Cox Broadcasting and Time-Life Inc. All voluntarily bar showings of such programs on their systems, Mooney said.
The ban even applies to so-called "premium service" channels for which cable users must specifically request and subscribe to at an extra fee, he said. Such channels may at times offer shows with nudity but no scenes of explicit hard-core sex are allowed, he said.
He also said that under the cable-association guidelines, such adult-category programs are only to be offered late at night, when children theoretically are asleep. Such programs always are preceded by a warning of about the contents.
Mooney's comments came a day after the commission released its nearly 2,000-page report calling for a crackdown by federal, state and local authorities on the estimated $8- billion-a-year pornography industry.
Among other things, the commission recommended that the federal criminal code against broadcasting obscene utterances be amended to include cable television programming.
Early in its work, the commission seemed confused about technology as well as what kinds of programs are offered on cable, Mooney said.
"We had an enormous amount of difficulty" in getting the commission's staff to understand the difference between cable and other forms of TV technology, such as over-the-air microwave and satellite-to-home systems that may offer stronger adult fare, he said.
"They used the word cable to describe all those things," he said. For example, he said, they considered as part of cable an over-the-air system whose signals are scrambled and require a decoder hooked to the TV set of a subscriber.
"And that's not us," Mooney said of those systems.
Even when the cable association complained that cable was entirely different from over-the-air systems, Mooney said, the commission still asked what was to prevent cable from offering hard-core sexual fare. "Our response would be, 'Technically, nothing,' " he said.
"But there are obscenity laws already. And the prevailing (cable) industry view is that to offer such things really hurts your business, your marketing acceptability in the community. The fact is, we don't offer such stuff."
The commission in its report called for action by the Federal Communications Commission, saying that "the time is too long overdue for the FCC to take an active role in enforcing the laws and regulations against obscene cable programming."
The federal Cable Act of 1984, which Mooney said was passed with the support and urging of his organization, bars obscenity on cable TV. It also provides for the same penalties that existed--prior to passage of the act--in the federal criminal code against broadcast obscenity.
The cable law says that "whoever transmits over any cable system any matter which is obscene or otherwise unprotected by the Constitution of the United States shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
James McKinney of the FCC's Mass Media bureau said that in addition to the cable act's penalty provisions, the act also says that:
--Cable operators, if requested by a subscriber, must sell or lease to the subscriber a device that can lock out certain cable channels during periods chosen by the subscriber. The intent of this is to deny children access to cable channels offering adult fare.
--City cable-franchising authorities have the power to prohibit or restrict cable programming that the authorities deem obscene or "in conflict with community standards in that it (the programming) is lewd, lascivious, filthy, or is otherwise unprotected by the Constitution of the United States."