Thursday, June 13, 1996

A setback for attempts to
censor the Internet

AGHAST at pornography on the Internet, Congress in February passed a law making it illegal to display "indecent" or "patently offensive" material on computer screens accessible to minors. As expected, a court has recognized the new law as censorship and struck it down in a preliminary injunction as unconstitutional.

The Communications Decency Act passed Congress as part of a broad overhaul of the telecommunications industry. Its goal was laudable, to keep cyberporn away from minors. Sponsors thought the Federal Communications Commission's longtime regulation of radio and television provided precedent for such oversight, but they failed to consider the Internet's interactive nature.

On the Internet, the computer operator receives what he or she orders, by e-mail, chat groups or the World Wide Web's thousands of sites. Erotica generally does not jump out at the computer surfer; it must be sought to be found.

"As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion," a panel of three federal judges agreed. That means any attempt at controlling the Internet for beneficial purposes should be in the least intrusive manner.

The courts have ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. However, "obscene" is a higher standard than "indecent," although it seems like a distinction without a difference.

The ruling will be appealed by the government directly to the Supreme Court, but it gives the first indication of how the federal judiciary will view issues related to the Internet.

Parents, not the government, have the primary role of protecting children from pornography, on computer networks or elsewhere. They can purchase software that filters or blocks indecent material from being seen on their home computers. That is far preferable to the government trying to regulate content on the global chaos of the Internet.

Other editorials in brief:

Senate's new leader

WITH the election of Trent Lott of Mississippi as Senate majority leader, Southern Republicans have assumed the leadership of both houses of Congress. Georgia's Newt Gingrich, of course, is speaker of the House of Representatives. That is a striking example of the turnaround from the time when the South was solidly Democratic. The Senate majority leader is one of the key figures in the functioning of the capital, those who can make Washington function effectively or doom it to gridlock. As a youth Lott was a cheerleader at the University of Mississippi. Cheerleaders have to be energetic, optimistic and enthusiastic, qualities that should serve him well in his new job.

Thai king's 50th

THE British royal family is currently big on scandal, while Japan's remains resolutely dignified. But in terms of exerting a positive influence on the nation, neither holds a candle to the king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his accession to the throne and is the world's longest reigning living monarch.

Thailand may have to come to grips with the question of the succession before long. But for now the Thais can celebrate 50 years of the enlightened reign of Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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