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Utah Attorney General Says Cable Fight Had Good Results With PM-Scotus Rdp, Bjt

March 24, 1987

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A cable TV representative hailed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the authority of states to ban ″indecent″ material from cable, while the attorney general on the losing side claimed a moral victory.

The high court Monday voted 7-2 to affirm a lower-court ruling striking down Utah’s never-enforced 1983 Cable Decency Act as unconstitutional. Utah had sought to restrict sexually-explicit material to late-night hours.

Bryan McDougal, an attorney for several cable companies in Utah, called the ruling a ″monumental decision″ for cable operators and viewers.

″The scope of the decision goes far beyond cable TV. It’s going to impact all other forms of communication,″ McDougal said.

Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson, notingthat 10 states had joined Utah in urging the court to permit regulation of sexually oriented material on cable televsion, said the case focused national attention on the issue.

He also said the cable industry is becoming more responsive to such concerns by scheduling ″offensive″ programs at times when children are less likely to see them.

″Many positive things have resulted from the fight,″ Wilkinson said. ″While I regret the court’s decision today, I do not regret my decision to pursue this matter to its ultimate resolution.″

Families Alert, a citizens group that had supported the Utah law, said it will now fight sexually oriented programming under a state law prohibiting distribution of harmful material to minors, a spokeswoman said.

″We’re certainly not going to sit back and allow those people to think they can show harmful material to our minors,″ said Joy Beech. ″With the insidiousness of the material that is being put out, that not only breaks the law but breaks parents’ hearts, we have to do something.″

A federal judge in 1985 declared the law unconstitutionally broad after cable companies had challenged it, and an appeals court affirmed the ruling last September.

The Cable Decency Act marked the Legislature’s second attempt to regulate cable programing. A 1981 law also was struck down by a federal judge.

House Majority Leader Nolan Karras said a third attempt is unlikely.

″I just think you can’t legislate morality,″ the Republican legislator said. ″The legislature we have now is moderate and, I would say, socially progressive. I can’t imagine (the issue) getting a hearing in this legislature.″

The state must pay the legal costs of the cable companies that sued. The principal plaintiff, Telecommunications Inc., alone has run up about $500,000 in expenses, said Dan McCarty, TCI manager for Utah and southern Idaho.

The attorney general, who hired former U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee to argue the state’s case before the Supreme Court, said Utah’s legal expenses were as much as $290,000.

″I just think it’s terrible we wasted all that money,″ said state Rep. Frank Pignanelli, a Democrat from Salt Lake who had sought this year to repeal the law.

″In our next session we need to remind David Wilkinson he spent all that money chasing cable TV regulation in a time of financial trouble for state government,″ he said, referring to a state deficit of about $100 million.

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