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Pay TV in Brownback's Obscenity Sights

Saying that more than one-half of all pay-per-view movies are porn and citing Adelphia Communications Corp., EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. by name, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said Wednesday that the Justice Department needs to step up obscenity prosecutions.

Brownback said that the government has a compelling interest in pursuing porn because of its ties to criminality, addiction and family breakups.

The Wednesday Judiciary Committee hearing was presided over by Brownback, a long-time foe of cable porn and broadcast indecency who has sponsored legislation that would call for federally funded research into the possibly addictive effects of pornography.

The hearing was prompted in part by a recent court decision (Extreme Associates), that  exonerating producers of a pornographic movie featuring simulations of women raped and killed. Brownback is concerned that the decision could jeopardize obscenity prosecutions in general.

But Brownback began the brief hearing--under an hour--with a shot across the bow at pay programmers, talking about the "mainstream American companies" who were in the porn business.

Patrick Trueman, the former head of the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Oscenity branch, under Presidents Reagan and Bush,  urged Brownback to push for prosecution of those companies, saying his experience was that juries would convict and that during the stepped-up pursuit of obscenity under Attorney General Edwin Meese in the 1980's, he would not simply target the most explicit, but go after less graphic porn and let juries decide whether it was obscene according to their community standards.

Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University, suggested that if Justice wanted to avoid the "morass" of First Amendment" questions, it should frame its prosecutions in terms of the business.

In constitutional law, he argued, the one who frames the issue first usually claims the high ground."Call it porn, it's not protected. Call it speech,  it is."

He advised pursuing it as porn. "The Sale of sex as a commodity is against the law in almost all the states," he said.

Not invited to the hearing were representatives of the adult entertainment industry, though they were allowed to submit comments. "We requested to have someone testify and were told the witnesses had been pre-selected," said Michelle Freridge, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition. "Their witnesses were all pro-censorship and anti-adult entertainment."