The First Amendment; Mass Cable Commission
WGBH Boston in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic communications at the School of Communications at Boston University now presents the First Amendment and a free people and examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s and now here is the director of the Institute for democratic communication Dr. Bernard Rubin. Tonight we're going to be talking about the fast changing world of cable television. And I'm delighted to have as my guests two of the commissioners including the chairman of the Massachusetts cable-TV commission which was created in one thousand eight hundred seventy one by law and has been in existence as an active body since 1972. My guests are first the German Professor Anthony G Ottinger professor of information resource Policy and director of the program on information resource policy at Harvard University. My second guest is Professor Hyman Goldin well known in Washington because for 22 years he was associated with the Federal Communications Commission in its research and
policy division. And from 1965 to 1967 was the executive secretary of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television study. Happily he's been a Boston University in our school of public communication since 1967. And as I said also a member of the cable commission of Massachusetts. I'm going to start out with Professor Ottinger. Tony may I ask you this question. What is the what are the effects of this new decision of a federal appeals court and I'm going to put a comma if uphill by future decisions which. Now make it possible for cable TV for the first time to show first run movies it removed all the restrictions on movies and also gave it free access like the over the air television to sports events. Do you think that this changes the basic picture of the opportunities for
people in communities interested in cable television. Well I think it has the potential for changing the picture of television and maybe too little too late to save the cable industry but I think a significant blow in favor of the First Amendment is knocking down restrictions on the acquisition of movies and so on that have been imposed by the Federal Communications Commission primarily to protect protect broadcasters. Hi I would agree that it's certainly a step in the right direction and terms of increasing the competitive opportunity what the economic effects of it are something different because there is still the problem of wiring up the communities in order to make the opportunity of getting the pay service and secondly there's a possibility the Congress stepping into the breach in terms of protecting at least the sports aspect of it. Talking about cable television one is reminded of the remarks of Frida
Henoch when she was on the Federal Communications Commission in the late 1940s about radio and television. Wonderful marketplace of ideas it would bring us every great cultural and scientific and educational program known to man. Cable television has so far failed of its promise. Would you care to give us some reasons why this wonderful opportunity has been so reaching fruition. Well I think you have to divide that in terms of what the main purpose of cable is. I see a primarily as providing service that is more of a channel oriented in terms of the present system rather than terms of new services so that if you're talking about the present system then cable certainly provides what television provides in terms of new services. You know it obviously has been limited the limitation arises not so much from cave all as from the fact that
there hasn't developed a marketplace for cable. If the marketplace where their cable would be very glad to provide the various kinds of programming. So I think that's what I think that goes back to I think a fallacy in the fundamental premise underlying your question namely that freedom Henniker anybody who's ever predicted that this or that particular technology or industry would be the answer to everybody's dreams are we talking about the report of the FCC. The Blue Book famous you know book in which this was outlined as potential. Yes I know but I mean these come periodic Lee and the other to my mind they're amount to so much flattery by people who are either sincerely deluded zealots or folks out to make a buck from a particular technological development the fact of the matter is that you know radio didn't die because television came along in fact it has grown in rather distinctive ways the newspapers are still around. People do read books. They take naps. They make love they
take long walks in the woods. In short in spite of all the self-serving statistics and particularly the self-serving predictions about the Gemini of this or that particular medium by and large folks still pretty much do what they want and that means really a rather wide variety of things using whatever medium in paying their money to whatever supplier happens to fit their mood and need of the moment. Let's take one. One possible issue the use of cable for educational purposes at great universities in this area. It seems to me should long ago have been hooked up to cable systems because there are many needs which can be met in the classrooms and through university and with 100000 students here that only cable could could supply. Well let me go back and I want to address at least a footnote to what Tony was saying. I guess I agree generally that the media are still alive but people do rearrange their priorities in the order of use of different kinds of
media and clearly there has been a great turning to television as a medium. People use that more often more people use it more often than any of the other media live it on. That's right. And that's all that we can deal with this whether they have an on but the point is that the reason they have it on is because it satisfies a certain need which is a need for entertainment and recreation and nobody has ever been able to demonstrate to my satisfaction that there is a large percentage of the people who in the home will use any of these media cable television or radio for purposes other than entertainment and recreation. Well what would you say then to the good people will say of Lexington Massachusetts and the general area I'm not asking for an out of that situation because there are ice commissioners because they are preparing possibly for for cable.
What would you say to them that would you say be very much more realistic than you've been in the past and look at the thing as it really is. Don't expect too much. I don't I'm not sure how to react to that because I don't know exactly what they have in mind. The odds are that whatever they have in mind it's far from reality. But that I can't comment. I would speculate of what they're expecting is to tie up the schools and to provide a great deal of cultural educational etc and my basic point is that I don't believe that over the air instructional material generally works in terms of the home use it very rarely does it work when we see it as a school or university used to say but they're not even there. I mean I think there have been 25 years of study of the use of television in the schools Wilbur Schramm was working carpenter at Penn State and lots of others. I think you see most of them showed no significant differences no better no worse than something else if the teachers are good if the students are WAY GOOD probably you know the
effectiveness on test results is about the same. And so if somebody is to introduce it you know fine but as again as a salvation or even as a cost saving. Let me let me throw something else since you don't even for fringe areas. Yeah no. Has cable and for school use institutional use has cable run up against a powerful new technological adversary namely in the cassettes which can meet the needs of people. If you if you had a Sony or whatever company for three or four hundred dollars you could actually play whatever you wanted anywhere in the in the world without the need for cable. My question is Has technology gone beyond cable. Well there is. Let me put it this way that in Massachusetts for example we have a metropolitan Educational Television Service which is sponsored by the state and there is over the air broadcast channel 2. However there is also distributed to the
teachers cosets program so that if they are not able to use the over the year program at that because their classes don't meet at the particular time they would be able to have the program on a cassette. So it can be looked upon partly as competitive and partly a supplementary because one of the difficulties with over the air service is that it requires a fixed schedule of classes. And the cassette has the advantage of enabling the teacher to carry the program at the time the teacher wishes to. But I've used the cassettes in our own school for classroom use and they're marvelous you get the full color you get it the second that you want it and they will do when they will it as just an ordinary television set with something that looks like a big paper go out and there are problems there are psychological problems and there are maintenance problems by and large. A teacher would prefer not to be involved in any equipment at all except for turning in and having a program you remind me of what Frederick Arion said in a book some years ago in public opinion he said the only thing that teachers have learned how to
use in five thousand years is the blackboard when they don't use it well. That's a new version which is probably a book run computer. Seven years ago I had to get a very detailed look at educational technology and I think you're right. Most of these fancy gadgets that are in the schools sit around on shelves. There's nothing fancy about cassette though is there. Yes there is in the heads you have to be sensitive and if the kids wrap it and it breaks it is all gone you know and then you can't get anybody to come in and repair it most of that stuff is not designed for the school environment either in terms of the ability of any ordinary human being teacher or not to use it routinely. And in terms of survivability in an environment where it isn't cherished and covered and protected and so on and stuff is just not fit for use by human beings and certainly not in school.
You know he'll need in on some kind of a technician to have well I've been fortunate as a condition as a company this equipment you know unless I have been told my informants tell me or however correctly or incorrectly that the commission may be looking into the question Should x rated movies Masters's commission should x rated movies be allowed on cable. If that is a correct assumption. Well we haven't exactly looked at the issues come up with a perennial bill that perhaps may have been more serious or still more serious in this session of the legislature than before. That would prohibit the showing of x rated cable and without passing on the merits of the X-rated killing my colleagues and I. I go and speak generally against any legislation or regulation that would prohibit speech or any other medium. What's your view.
I have several arguments as to why I am opposed to the passage of this bill. One of the arguments is that the main purpose of cable is to enlarge the opportunity for freedom as contrasted with over the year television cable office a greater opportunity for freedom from interference by the cable operator or any other person. So I would like to preserve that freedom opportunity of cable which may be its greatest potential advantage. The second problem it seems to me is that you're dealing with the question of the role of the state versus the role of the parent. I feel basically that in this area the protections of the child. If that's the danger which is expected from X-rated movie should be a parental function rather than a state function. It also raises the problem that the definition of obscenity which is not necessarily the same as the Supreme Court the Supreme Court has a
definition of obscenity. And if the city or the state feels that the cable operator has violated the obscenity laws then they could go to court and it seems to be unnecessary to introduce a new definition of danger to the child. And finally and perhaps most seriously at the pragmatic level we don't have a real life problem at this point. So far as I know there are no or very few x rated movies shown anywhere in the state of Massachusetts via cable and they would seem to me that legislation should not be passed until you confront a pragmatic situation in this area which is fraught with so many other problems. Yes I agree that nothing should constitute a crime until it is an act that you just can't make up crimes but on the other hand even though I'm a strong First Amendment man take my my position alongside any anybody else.
I am worried about this even as a theoretical proposition because of the children. And my fear is that smart operators if what you say about the realistic situation in cable is true smart operators now with a new decision to let them have whatever movies they want which includes pornographic movies by your definition or mine at least will use the phrase x rated may step into view. I know of no way. That comes to my mind easily to protect the people who don't want it. And the parental guidance thing. If we know what's going on in many homes in this country or places where children domiciled is a weak argument but high and I mean Tony come right back yes I think that you know if you're going to get a wooden Plas distinction and there is no class distinction to resing homes etc. and even the upper class economically and upper class whatever you're right I don't know whether you were for which class you were for or against but point being that
any home there would have that much problem the growing of children is probably exploding the Jordan all sorts of things that they don't need to watch movies for it just seems to me that the intrusion of the state into the affairs of the family on whatever pretext. Just because so quickly so ludicrous and so intrusive and so much more fraught with dangers of state control all of our activities that the risks of children watching something that you are I think inappropriate. And if it's not true Bernie that there is no protection if the cable operator is guilty of violating the obscenity laws of which there are many federal and state the legal authorities can move against that. So there is protection and there we always remain you're saying when we use the word
obscenity and we use the phrase x rated movies that we're talking about two different things. You know what I'm saying is that the definition of obscenity may not be the same thing as X-rated movies that becomes a factual problem to be determined on a case by case Movie case by case basis. What I'm saying is that if it is if the X-rated movie is guilty of obscenity then there is protection which is which is to the courts. Now you seem to be arguing that there should be another level of protection which is against X rated movie perhaps on the grounds of indecency. No not on the grounds of indecency on the grounds of. People who have no control over what is presented to them the children being being in situations where there is no escaping Look I get I mean I just find that kind of argumentation ludicrous I can barely come to terms with you find the protection of the battered child ludicrous. The crying is really very different and much more demonstrably because it's
because it's a crime or because it's not I'm not I don't admit that there's a crime against the mind. You know the notion. As far as I'd be willing to go to meet you is on matters of what happens on the news and or other public place where there is no choice or control. Inside the home what people do and how they get along with their children or whether they put a lock on their television set or whether they have no television set or whether they turn its face to the wall or let their children into the room or put a lock on the door. I think if one gets into that kind of discussion of the state role inside the home the dangers of fascism far outweigh in my mind any possible gain. As far as it would be crime and trolls are no I wouldn't defend any curtailment on the grounds of bringing in or assuring he she isn't my but my thought is that simply and I don't want to belabor it.
But when the use of the word home is is made home means so many things today and certainly we of the middle class hardly recognize some of the discoveries the robber callers made about what goes on in so home as there was a right to intrude into the state has I mean I guess that's what I mean I think it's a factors including but I think that the state does intrude now we have x rated movies we have GP movies you cannot see certain unless what you got out that I have seen others on the stage for you know those are voluntary but very interesting. But unlike the original motion picture association you may say it is a coord with the cloak of authority behind in other words the state does not say Look that is an intrusion on the First Amendment either. Besides would you like dealing with the home when you're talking about the code you're only dealing with the theater. But now we're moving to cable TV and what is available in the general there this is really my presumption.
Are you are you concerned that these this is new. Federal court decision might open the eyes of some operators who will say look the movie business on the outside may be dying let's bring that into the cable is not hasn't changed at all the decision hasn't changed at all there are people who are interested in pornographic movies on your new video disc for example in films that are sent around to homes or all kinds of opportunities for for transmitting pornographic materials and they are being utilized now. So it's not clear you know why single live television. And again it seems to me that civil liberties are for a possible gain. But you understand that the court has already said as far as adults are concerned they have a right to see and to read yes whatever as they wish because now you're going to say to the adults that no they may not have the x rated movies because of the fear that their children might be watching they reply to you. Well
I'm going to lock up my children so they don't see it what would your answer but my kids are the better children. Well it might be my my duty as interlocutor is really to force you on these points because technology is offering us new considerations we have to at least debate these. I don't happen to agree with you that the First Amendment is being assaulted by certain protections and I think I could point out that the state does interfere. Coincidentally with the protection of the First Amendment. So let's move on from that. What is in your view I get a feeling that you are both somewhat pessimistic. Now you can tell me that you know pessimistic about the developments in cable television. My question is what is the real future of cable. Well you know I think I mean correct me that cable is a new technology. The technology of cable is rather old as technologies go in the sense that it's back to the middle 30s the coaxial cables that
cable television news news are used abundantly by telephone companies. We buy other kinds of communicators. The only thing new about cable is that it provides a service name will regionally the transmission of over the air broadcasting into places that could not get clear signals by just putting up an antenna recently that was the premise but meant most of those fringe areas are now pretty well taken care of except I would say in the West where there is a major issue about reaching some of the rural areas going Massachusetts that's a lot and you mentioned Pittsfield before the program has one case in which there are between call between the folks in the western part of Massachusetts now are using cable quite happily to bring them the regular three networks and some other signals that otherwise they couldn't get. All right now so I'm back to my question with this old technology. I've amended my question of what is the real future of cave.
Well the point of. Raising a bit about the nature of the technology is that it is simply a mode of delivery of services. And the key really is what services can be delivered. Cable is not unique. You mentioned before you mentioned cassettes as an alternative mode of delivery. There are alternative industries one of them is the over the air broadcast industry another one is the regular common carrier telecommunications industry. So let's distinguish between cable as a technology or an industry which has competitors in the services and I think it's important otherwise it's very hard to answer your question. OK I'm just I'm still waiting. Let me set it up at that point and Tony has me spy. I think that at this point one could say with a great deal certainty that so far the cable is valued as a retransmission service that's fairly clear it's valued by in the eastern part of Massachusetts by say 30 or 40 percent
of subscribers. When once you leave the retransmission area you find that there are a host of problems one is the western part of most uses far more that's more like 80 percent of the Reivers where where you don't have good over the service cable is excellent. But when you talk about promises I suppose what you're saying is Well what else is going to do besides be transmitting the signals. And that is a very very spotty picture. One of the things we're discovering is that there are a lot more things that can be done by over the air television receivers and by telephone and therefore do not need new technology I think that's one of the important developments that we have discovered in many more ways of using some of the existing media for purposes which were once assigned to cable. In so far as they use cable for local origination for access for educational programs for etc. that is
extremely minimal because there isn't a market place for it at the present time and they are still experimenting to find out whether there is an economic base for such service. One final point is that probably the area in which they feel most strongly there is a possibility at the moment is in terms of a satellite connected cable system so they can distribute movies and other events on a special pay basis which seems to be the most promising at the moment of its so called Blue Sky developments. Well the whole idea of the wired nation started in spite of its popularity. You know I think it is anathema to the industries and low incomes that I think would make sense as wired cities. For the simple reason that they're broadcasting over the air broadcasting stations are using a valuable resource of the spectrum and it would be much more economical there to use cable of whatever kind to distribute
programming and use the over the air spectrum for mobile services which cannot do without it and which lack this resource in most of the congested metropolitan areas. But to move down that route raises many many hackles and seven billion dollars and I'm sorry one last question in a minute or so we have left. It seems to me a peculiar set up from the administrative point of view that you supervise the cable commission the cable industry in Massachusetts the cities and towns license and the FCC. As somebody said interferes. Is there a better way to do that. There probably is but it's hard to discover the cities by the way are the only essential participants in this because no way can you get cable from it into a home without you know getting road going through municipal officials. Everything else is arguable whether it will need a state authority or a federal So it seems there's very little state by planning or national planning that we can get from this guy kind of a Massachusetts system.
Well on the country that's what the purpose is is to attempt to get it but what we will result from that is another question as well. I want to thank you very very much for a very spirited discussion of the possibilities for cable and I think a realistic one. I am thanking my two guests Anthony g ot injure and high golden both commissioners of the Massachusetts cable-TV commission Professor Martin here is the chairman for joining me on this discussion. This is Brenda driven saying good night. For WGBH radio in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic communications at the School of Communications at Boston University has presented the First Amendment and a free people and examination of civil liberties and the media. In the 1970s this program was produced in the studios of WGBH Boston.
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