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Brownback: Prosecute!!!!!!!!!

Washington- As Capitol Hill entertained proposals for dealing with televised indecency last week, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) came up with perhaps the most startling pitch: Prosecute cable operators and others, including hotel chains, that relay obscene material.

“It is really hurting this society today,” Brownback told a subcommittee hearing. “I’m hoping we can get some vigor in constitutionally prosecuting cases of this nature.”

Brownback’s hearing attracted just one other lawmaker, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who attended briefly and left without posing questions or making a statement.

But the sparse attendance does not mean Brownback lacks allies. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) contributed a statement warning that “the federal criminal code prohibits interstate sale and distribution of obscene material.” And Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has pledged to make obscenity part of his agenda. “Obscene materials are not protected by the First Amendment, and I am committed to prosecuting these crimes aggressively,” Gonzales said last month.

Brownback invited witnesses who advocated prosecution, including Patrick Trueman, who prosecuted obscenity cases as a Justice Department official under President George H.W. Bush. “Juries across America will convict,” Trueman said. “Don’t be afraid to prosecute anywhere in America.”

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association declined to comment on potential liability for its cable operator members that offer lucrative adult channels. The Free Speech Coalition, an organization that works on behalf of the adult film industry, said it offered to appear at Brownback’s hearing but was rebuffed. “The companies don’t need to cave in,” said Michelle Freridge, the coalition’s executive director. She said that although prosecutions might initially succeed, “free speech rights are going to prevail.”

Also last week, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in a speech challenged cable companies to offer family-friendly tiers. Two days earlier, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) offered legislation to extend indecency rules affecting broadcast TV to cable and satellite, and to extend restrictions to violent programming.


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