Beliefnet
Paris, Sept. 3--(AP) For nearly two decades it has been France's Saturday night naughtiness: no-holds-barred pornography, beamed to TV sets in millions of homes across the land. All the while, few people complained about "le porno du Samedi soir," as the French cheerfully call it--until this summer. Then government-appointed regulators touched off a cultural debate by urging channels to drop the porn, and at the same time lobbying the legislature for the power to force compliance if TV executives don't go along.

French TV porn started back in 1984, when pioneering broadcaster Canal Plus introduced X-rated films on the first Saturday of the month to help build its image as a brash and racy new alternative to France's stuffy old channels. Canal Plus, France's first pay-TV channel, has since blossomed into a darling of the cultural establishment, because it provides much-needed financial support to French filmmakers battling Hollywood domination.

But regulators and others say TV porn has gotten out of hand. They cite concerns that the increasing amount of such shows threatens the moral and mental well-being of young people.

It's not that France, long known for sexual openness and liberal mores, has suddenly grown prudish. Rather, the debate exposes the intensity of French fears that young people are becoming caught up by drugs, violence, sex and crime.

Crime, particularly increasing youth crime, was a dominant topic of presidential and parliamentary elections last spring. Among cases that made headlines: gang rapes of teenagers by other teens. Few lay the blame for such violence squarely at pornography's door. But some experts argue that porn may help push some young criminals over the edge, and more generally that it degrades women and encourages unsafe sex practices.

One of the first actions of the center-right government that won June legislative elections was to commission political philosopher Blandine Kriegel to study violence on TV, including sexual violence. "Doctors, psychologists, teachers and educators, lawyers, judges, journalists and finally parents think that violent images remain too easily accessible and available on television," said Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon. "The government cannot remain indifferent to such a situation."

The TV watchdog, the Conseil Superieur de L'Audiovisuel, says five French broadcast, cable and satellite channels carry 103 X-rated shows each month. When pay-per-view movies are included, the number rises to 943. "Erotic programs always sell. Sex still interests people," said Richard Maroko, programming director for AB Groupe, whose porn channel XXL reaches 1 million cable and satellite subscribers.

But Maroko, speaking in a phone interview, said he did not want to comment about the proposed ban on TV porn. "Too complicated," he said.

Other TV executives and critics of the proposed ban say singling out television will not stop young people from seeing porn on the Internet or videotapes, and say no prohibition can curb adolescent curiosity about sex. They also argue that banning porn from TV would infringe the rights of adults who watch it.

Canal Plus, which claims 4.9 million subscribers, says it has no intention of changing its programming. It says it broadcasts porn only between midnight and 5 a.m. and, in any event, parents can prevent children watching by unplugging the special receiver needed watch Canal broadcasts.

According to a study commissioned by the regulatory commission, 11 percent of children ages 4 to 12 in households that subscribe to Canal Plus see at least one minute of porn a year. Some critics suggest part of the answer would be to punish adults who let children watch.

But for well-known French pornographer John B. Root the problem is not one of genre, but of the poor quality of many of today's porn movies. "No one would have thought to make porn the scapegoat for society's ills if it offered amusing, well-made films, aphrodisiac works, stories of desire and of pleasure," Root wrote in an impassioned appeal against the proposed ban. "Its subject matter is physical love--a subject that has offered masterpieces to painting, sculpture and literature."

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