Cable Access Denied 

Late-Night Smut Show Kicks Off Debate Over Censorship

James Jordan says that his cable access program, The Harry Lime Show, is "objectionable by design." Produced at Multnomah Community Television (MCTV), the sizable Jordan appears weekly in a leather hood. His only regular guest is a dildo. While it may not be considered "pornography" in the strictest sense, the show would certainly make Mary Poppins blush.

Since 1994, Harry Lime has aired on Thursday nights at 11 pm--during the so-called "Safe Harbor Hours," a time when juveniles are not supposedly watching. But on December 20, Tualatin Valley Cable Access (TVCA), a facility which covers the viewing area southwest of Portland, preempted Jordan's show with a religious program.

Jordan found out a few days later when several viewers e-mailed him. At first, he was told by TVCA that it was a technical glitch. Since then, he has discovered his show was intentionally replaced. Believing that such action amounts to censorship, Jordan is threatening TVCA with a lawsuit stating they violated his right to free speech. Regardless of the outcome, Jordan's complaint could reshape cable access in Portland.

Under federal law, cable access stations are considered a public forum; if the content isn't pornography by legal standards, what is said and shown in these public domains cannot be censored without some sort of review panel.

Until Jordan's show was bumped, many involved with cable access programming in the Portland area believed there was a formal agreement to share shows between the three primary cable access facilities (TVCA, MCTV, and Portland Cable Access). In the same way ABC uniformly broadcasts Will & Grace nationwide, shows like Harry Lime were to be aired throughout the region regardless of where they were produced. But one programmer at MCTV sheepishly admitted that no such protocol exists and that the cable access stations simply have been following undocumented tradition.

In emails sent to Jordan, the director of TVCA has defended her station's action, saying they have the right to prioritize programs produced at their facilities over shows produced elsewhere. Jordan thinks this excuse is a smokescreen.

The issue is far from resolved. According to Jordan, his complaint has exposed holes in local cable access policies. According to Rob Brading, director for MCTV, it is doubtful these programming issues can be resolved within the next few months. Currently, PCA is searching for a new director; Brading doesn't believe the current interim director at PCA will be given an opportunity to shape such fundamental policies.

Meanwhile, Jordan has contacted the ACLU and several attorneys. He claims he is hesitant to bring a lawsuit because it will deplete the cable access station's scant resources. But, he concludes, "all I really want is for my show to be played."

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