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COUNTERPUNCH LETTERS : Try Scrambling the TV Signal

August 02, 1993

This is in response to the Rev. Wayne A. Wilson's Counterpunch, "Plan Could Ensure Moral Safeguards" (July 19). While I agree that there is excessive violence and sex on TV today, and I think that the best place for censorship is in the home, I see two flaws in Wilson's proposal:

First, it does nothing for those people who do not have cable in their homes (a very significant number of homes). Second, it takes the "baby and bathwater" approach, presuming that none of the programs on a selected channel has any redeeming social value or is of interest to one's household.

I think that a better solution would borrow from ON TV and Select TV, two premium channels that predated cable in L.A. They broadcast a scrambled signal using standard channels, but their programming could only be viewed by those households with the necessary descrambler.

If all L.A. TV stations would agree on a single scrambling format and use it when their programs were too violent or too sexy for a G or PG rating, the result could be:

* Homes that never wanted to view harsher programs would not acquire a descrambler but would have full access to tamer offerings.

* Homes with children, where parents wanted to control viewing of harsher programs, would get a descrambler with a key for the on/off switch.

* If an unscrambled program is felt to be offensive, viewers could petition the station to scramble it, rather than remove it altogether.

The Federal Communications Commission would still provide watchdog control. And there should always be one or two unscrambled programs in any given hour simply because too much audience would be lost if viewers who chose not to acquire a descrambler were ignored.


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