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Use technology to be better parents

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

Even with cable companies offering better scrambling of pay-per-view channels, you still can make out grainy images of naked people doing their thing on the Playboy Channel.

The sounds accompanying such images aren't as explicit as they were a few years ago, before Congress passed a law that forced cable stations to do a better job of scrambling soft-porn images not meant for children.

Let's be clear. I don't care what adults do on their own time, but we should all care if kids are unwittingly exposed to adult-oriented programs.

Today technology exists to help parents better monitor their children's TV viewing. If you want to black out soft-porn channels entirely, for instance, you can get a converter box supplied by some cable companies.

If a customer wants to watch a Playboy show, he or she can program the ``smart box'' with a special code to air the specific show and be billed for that service. Customers also can program the box to block out access to Playboy to protect kids from stumbling onto material that's not appropriate for their age.

Some cable providers, though, don't have the ``smart box'' yet.

That's why the 1996 Communications Decency Act was such a godsend for many of us frazzled parents. Before the law, channel surfing was a risky adventure. Parents had to be on guard every minute when their kids were simply changing a channel.

Without that law, we were unable to stop the sounds and sights of poorly scrambled Playboy or Spice channel programs from ``bleeding'' into our sets.

The law required cable stations either to scramble the pictures completely, make blocking devices available to viewers for free, or limit soft porn to the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when children are supposed to be in bed. Sleeping.

Then came promises of new TVs carrying the V-chip, which would allow parents to block out certain TV shows based on sexual content, violence or spicy language.

Most parents of young children greeted all of those protections with a sigh of relief. Didn't they?

Apparently not. It was more like a yawn.

So stated Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Monday when the nation's highest court struck down the viewing time restrictions in the decency law by a 5-4 vote.

Writing for the majority, Kennedy stated that parents have reacted to the problem of unwanted images bleeding into their televisions ``with a collective yawn,'' and that the ``government has failed to show (that the daytime blackout rule, which was suspended by a lower court in 1998) is the least restrictive means for addressing a real problem.''

Neither the problem of ``signal bleed'' nor inattentive parents justifies a national law restricting the First Amendment rights of adults to watch Playboy whenever they choose, the court said.

What's frustrating is that a majority of people keep telling pollsters that television is responsible for much of society's moral decay. Yet parents who had the opportunity to block out offending soft-porn signals have been asleep at the switch.

Barely 1 percent of cable viewers contacted their cable providers to get soft-porn channels blocked out when the signal kept bleeding into their homes. Bad scrambling still exits in 39 million homes. That's abysmal.

Wake up, parents!

The law is on your side if you choose to act. Contact your cable company and demand that unwanted sights and sounds from soft-porn stations be blocked out for free.

Instead of whining about all the bad stuff out there, take control of your children's television viewing habits. We now have technology on our side.

Use it.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.



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