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Electronic Pornography

Increasingly, with advanced technologies, the delivery of pornography and thus its control has reached new levels of sophistication. In addition to cable television, dial-a-porn companies, and home videos, the growth of the Internet has created an entirely new medium for the dissemination of any message, including pornographic ones. Parent groups and religious groups have banned together to lobby for control of such media. Such pressure bore early fruit in the music industry with the Washington, D.C.-based Parents' Music Resource Center headed by Tipper Gore. By 1990 the group had managed to label 93 major music releases with the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warning. However, critics of such measures point out that these warning labels only whet the appetites of kids for such products.

The use of 900 numbers for phone sex has also come under close scrutiny, as many of the users of such services are under age. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Sable Communications of California Inc. v. FCC that a ban on dial-a-porn obscenity was constitutional. However, in the same finding, it was decided that a ban on indecency was not constitutional. Thus, if government wanted to protect minors from such phone communication, narrowly defined laws would have to be adopted that would not at the same time violate the free speech rights of adults to the same services.

Television, too, has had its critics, of both the sex and violence portrayed on the airwaves. One study has shown that in a typical week of viewing, teens can see about 57 sexual behaviors on afternoon television. During prime time the viewer could witness 143 per week. New rating systems have been devised by the industry, under pressure from parent groups and with the implicit threat of possible government intervention if nothing was done. Initially, six categories of parental guidance were developed: TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-M. However, such designations were found to be so cumbersome, that new pressure was brought to bear in 1997, and the television industry, with the exception of NBC, agreed on a new rating system: S for sex, V for violence, L for foul language, and D for suggestive dialogue. Critics of the guidelines say that such labeling goes too far into the realm of censorship, giving no indication of the context of such elements, and scaring potential advertisers away from shows that deal with realistic contemporary content. Such measures are in a way merely stop-gap, however, for in 1995 Congress passed a provision for a so-called V-chip, which, inserted in new televisions, would allow for the automatic blocking of undesirable types of programming.

The Internet has also come in for its share of criticism over the availability of pornography. Not only content has been criticized, but also its ready availability for users of all ages. The worldwide nature of such material as well as the ability to download images makes the system virtually impossible to censor. In a landmark case in 1997 the Supreme Court invalidated a Clinton administration piece of legislation regulating cyberspace. In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union the Court decided that sending "indecent" or "offensive" material to a minor through the Internet can not be a crime, as such transmission is protected under the First Amendment. Thus for the time being, censorship of the Internet has been averted.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesObscenity - Pornography And Obscenity, Pornography, Obscenity, And The Law, The Meese Commission And The Pornography Debate