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John J. Rigas
Dear Mr. Rigas,
I am the host of The Dr. Susan Block Show, broadcasting on Adelphia, formerly Century Cable TV, in the lovely, liberal community of West Los Angeles since 1992. I am also a sex therapist in private practice for 15 years, a Yale graduate,. best-selling author, lecturer at USC (among other institutions), consultant to the LA Public Defender's Office, and I have hosted two specials on HBO.
Just as I do on my HBO specials, I host my public access show from a bed surrounded by boudoir toys, like a chef hosts a cooking show from a kitchen surrounded by pots and pans. I take calls from viewers dealing with all aspects of sex and love. I also interview sexuality experts of all kinds, from distinguished professors to popular porn stars, from an orthodox rabbi to a call-girl who used to be a cop. Some of my guests take off some of their clothes (not the rabbi!). We present such images, along with our discussions about sex, relationships, politics and culture, in what we and our fans consider a tasteful, beautiful, occasionally humorous, always sensitive manner. Some people don't like it, of course. That's the nature of public access. Public Access is the People's Broadcasting System. And the People have different points of view.
For nearly a decade, my program has aired almost every Saturday night on Adelphia/formerly Century Cable Public Access without censorship. We always go on after 11 PM, usually at 11:30 PM, considered "safe harbor" for a sexuality show. We also air on several other public access stations throughout Southern California and other parts of the country.
Local Adelphia staff...said they had "no control," each insisting that he or she was not the one censoring the show...
Then suddenly, without warning, starting in mid-August, Adelphia began censoring my show, not just barring certain parts, but refusing to air eight out of ten scheduled episodes as of this writing (October 23). At first, no explanation was given. In fact, I would not have known that my show hadn't run if not for viewers calling my studio to find out why it wasn't on the air.
When my executive producer Max Lobkowicz and I complained to local Adelphia staff, including Gail Fetzer, John Monahan and Bill Rosendahl, that our show hadn't aired, they said they had "no control," each insisting that he or she was not the one censoring the show. They told us that this is "out of their hands," and all decisions are made "in Coudersport" at the Adelphia corporate offices by Robert Whitthauer, acting counsel. Max called Mr. Whitthauer and reached him right away. He briefly explained the problem, and Mr. Whitthauer said he would get right back to him. That was their first and last conversation.
Mr. Whitthauer never called us again, though we've called back and left numerous messages. Neither are our calls to other executives at Adelphia corporate offices returned. Of course, you should know, since you don't return our calls either, do you, Mr. Rigas? No one at Adelphia corporate takes our calls except secretaries who insist they don't know anything and threaten to hang up on us. And yet, the local Adelphia people say we have to talk "to corporate." It is all very Kafkaesque: The people we talk to don't know anything. And the people who are said to know something won't talk to us.
I have repeatedly requested in writing that Mr. Whitthauer tell me which parts of these shows are "obscene."
Meanwhile, one by one, every episode of The Dr. Susan Block Show (with two somehow slipping through the cracks in your censorship machine) has been censored. After the first two were not broadcast without prior notification, I started receiving notices from Mr. Whitthauer's office after the shows hadn't aired. By the way, there is nothing more "explicit" in these eight censored shows than there was in the hundreds of episodes of The Dr. Susan Block Show that have already aired on Adelphia in West LA. A couple of the shows that have been censored have been political. "Democratic Sex I, II, and III" all center on broadcasts we did around the Democratic Convention, being held right down the street from our studios. Democratic Sex I and III were censored. For some reason, Democratic Sex II aired.
I have asked for guidelines. I have repeatedly requested in writing that Mr. Whitthauer or someone from Adelphia tell me which parts of these shows are "obscene." I have gotten no response. In an effort to get a show on the air, I went so far as to black out all nudity and "questionable" action during some episodes. Even this show has been rejected with the very same form letter.
Ironically, during this time period, HBO has been running Real Sex 25 which features me and much of the "gang" here. So people who get Adelphia can still see us on HBO. You just can't see the public access show. And even though you can't see us on Adelphia public access, you can still hear us on www.drsusanblock.com for free. And for a pittance, you can watch the whole show on your computer.
But we will not give up on our public access show. Every week, we bring over a new show, and every week we are rejected with a form letter. But we are gathering forces. We are speaking with other public access producers of sex-related programming who have received similar treatment. We are speaking with lawyers and the ACLU. We are asking the Public Access Commission to investigate Adelphia's gross violations of city, state and federal laws and agreements. We are hopeful that we can straighten this horrible mess out quickly and without too much more damage being done.
You have unleashed a seven-pronged assault on public access TV across the US, with total disregard for your agreements with the cities in which you operate, in defiance of the US Supreme Court and with utter disrespect for your viewers. You spent the last few years, swallowing up smaller cable TV companies. Now you have virtually silenced all public access sex educators and broadcasters.
Mr. Rigas, this is just one story of one show in one community among a couple of hundred communities and 5.5 million homes around the country. Apparently, you have unleashed a seven-pronged assault on producers like me on public access TV across the United States, with total disregard for your cable access agreements with the cities in which you operate, in defiance of the United States Supreme Court and with utter disrespect for your viewers. You spent the last few years, swallowing up smaller cable TV companies all over America. And now, over these past three months, you have virtually silenced all public access sex educators and broadcasters.
In a totally unilateral decision, you have taken dozens of sexually oriented programs off the air in your seven broadcast regions. No hearings, no warnings, no notices, no guidelines, and no dialogue with any of the public access commissions in these regions. In fact, Adelphia representatives lie and dissemble repeatedly to customers and commissioners about what you're doing with public access.
This is a personal, morality-based attack on our First Amendment right of free speech as well as our personal civil rights. Obviously, we producers of sexuality-related public access programming are being "sexually profiled" by Adelphia, thus denied of our First Amendment rights. Just as people of color are sometimes "racially profiled" by people in power, we public access producers are being sexually profiled--that is, we are being branded as criminals simply because our programs deal directly with sex--by Adelphia. Interestingly, Adelphia doesn't censor me when I appear on HBO. Nor does it censor explicit sexual images mixed with explicit violence on shows like Oz.
Perhaps you personally feel that images of the naked human body are evil or indecent, Mr. Rigas. You have a right to your feelings (or hang-ups), and you have a right to refuse to run programming that you find evil or indecent on your leased access channels. But you don't have a right to pick and choose what you find good or "decent" for public access. That's censorship. And, according to the Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium, Inc., et al v. Federal Communications et al., it's illegal.
You've "won" a battle in that you're keeping my show and other sexuality shows off of public access for the time being. But you will not win this war, Mr. Rigas. Not as long as America is free. Not as long as we honor our First Amendment which protects the people's right to free speech which includes the images on our public access programs.
First they silenced the artists, trashing their work, burning their books, then they imprisoned them, then they killed them, then they started killing their friends and relatives, people of their race or religion, neighbors who hadn't informed on them. All for the sake of morality. Because the Nazis considered themselves very moral people. It was the artists and sexologists that were immoral, who were obscene, according to the Nazis.
Because you know what happens after the censorship of images on this slippery slope of oppression: the censorship of words, the censorship of ideas, the censorship of information. The Nazis started their ghastly campaign (leading inevitably to a Final Solution) by censoring erotic art, explicit images, sexual science research and eventually just about any kind of art or literature, calling it decadent, degenerate, indecent, immoral, obscene. First they silenced the artists, trashing their work, burning their books, then they imprisoned them, then they killed them, then they started killing their friends and relatives, people of their race or religion. Once that kind of killing was acceptable, all hell broke lose from the top down, and all kinds of innocents were executed, gassed, incinerated, you know the story. All for the sake of morality. Because the Nazis considered themselves very moral people. It was the artists, writers and sexologists that were immoral, who were obscene, according to the Nazis.
And according to you and Robert Whitthauer (or whoever, if anyone, is actually viewing my tapes), I am immoral. You have a right to your opinion. But you have no right to silence my constitutionally protected freedom of expression on public access TV.
And you will not prevail. You'll have to incinerate me in one of those ovens to silence me, and then I'd become a martyr and you'd really have a PR problem. Oh, you'll censor me for a while, but you won't wipe me off the battlefield (I've got a website that runs on Adelphia cables, for goodness sakes!), and you won't win the war.
But because you're the Goliath here, that is, you own Adelphia and, as far as I can tell, you own all the frightened apparatchiks that work at the Adelphia West LA gulag, the silent little lambs, including Bill Rosendahl, formerly great liberal Man of the People, and, sadly, it seems, even our erstwhile friends John Monahan and Gail Fetzer. You and your sons now own all those people, and for the time being, you have banned my show from public access.
Censorship seems so easy,
America is the richest, most powerful country in the world right now. When we should be focusing our attention on real problems like poverty, education and health care, several of our leaders are in the self-destructive throes of a Full-On Censorship Crusade. Censorship is in the air like the smog, polluting our natural atmosphere, clogging our brains like smog clogs our breathing passages. The winds of suppression are coming from all directions, from the Right and the Left. But whether it's right-wing reactionary religious fundamentalist mumbo jumbo or left-wing politically correct psychobabble, it all adds up to hypocrisy and oppression, a step backwards in America's cultural development when we have so much potential to move forward. A step back into the darkness. What did we call the most repressed, the most censorship-riddled period in Western History? The Dark Ages. History knows: Censorship begets ignorance. Ignorance begets hatred, violence, disease and destruction.
Yet censorship seems so easy, especially when you're in power. You think: "I don't like what I'm hearing, so I won't let them say it. I don't like what I'm seeing, so I won't let them show it." And if the people accept the censorship, then the powerful stay in power, and pass it onto their sons. From Bush to Bush, from Gore to Gore, from Rigas to Rigas.
Now at the dawn of the 21st century, the Information Age, censorship is the ultimate oppression of the Haves over the Have-Nots, because censorship means they won't let you have the information or images you desire. We're not talking about not being allowed to kill someone or steal something here, we're talking about not being allowed to have information.
Don't worry, you won't stop the free flow of information on public access, Mr. Rigas, no matter how many cable stations and other media outlets you swallow up. You'll be stopped in court.
It's a pretty appalling vision of the future, if your attempts at censorship succeed. But don't worry, you won't stop the free flow of information on public access, Mr. Rigas, no matter how many cable stations and other media outlets you swallow up. You'll be stopped in court.
Of course, it would be quite statesmanlike of you to put a halt to Adelphia's chilling and sudden ban on sexuality programming (effective on the unnerving date of Friday the 13th of October, from what I've heard from Adelphia customer service representatives). Please, before this goes to court and stains your reputation irrevocably, take a few moments to consider the pubic access "problem" in an open-minded, even-handed way. I am available for consultation on this matter. You can call me at 213.749.1330 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for your attention to this urgent matter.
Susan M. Block, Ph.D.
You Can Watch the Uncensored Dr. Susan Block Show in 5.5
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Check out distinguished Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer's wonderful, supportive column (3rd item from top) in the 1/7/01 Sunday Times regarding Adelphia's "prudish" censorship of Dr. Susan Block, "one of the nation's leading sexologists...and a very bright and funny woman to boot:" http://www.latimes.com/communities/news/westside/20010107/tws0001681.html
Read Michael Gougis' great piece on our censorship battles with Adelphia in LA New Times (with fun photos by Wild Don Lewis): http://www.newtimesla.com/issues/2001-01-25/faultlines.html