The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography has tentatively decided to urge the creation of citizen groups to monitor newsstands, cable television networks, videocassette stores and other media outlets for material they consider obscene, according to documents released yesterday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained internal commission papers in a suit against the Justice Department, called this and other proposed recommendations "so draconian that they risk returning America to the sexual dark ages."
"It is little wonder that the commission tried to withhold these documents," said Barry W. Lynn, ACLU's legislative counsel. "They are riddled with factual errors, preposterous legal theories, undocumented allegations and unwarranted hysterics about the effects of sexually explicit material on viewers and readers."
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten replied that "it would behoove the ACLU and any other interested party to wait for the final report before they start unloading." Korten said the ACLU is making too much of "early versions of what the commission is thinking of doing."
The 11-member commission, chaired by Arlington County prosecutor Henry E. Hudson, is to vote on the recommendations later this month. Hudson has maintained that he and the other panel members are taking a balanced approach, and disputes the ACLU's contention that they are overzealous.
Among the staff proposals in the documents:
*"Citizen action groups" should band together to monitor newsstands, convenience stores, video stores, cable networks and other outlets for allegedly obscene material. These groups should also monitor judges through a "court watch" program and complain about lenient sentences for pornographers.
According to the panel's papers, these groups would examine such questions as whether a newsstand carried obscene magazines and how openly they were displayed. Group members also would sit in on pornography trials and publicize sentences they believe inadequate with the media, law enforcement and public officials.
Lynn called this "a manifesto for a public sex-spy network" that would "deputize citizen-zealots into frightening every merchant and media outlet into adopting their view of sexual morality."
*Attorney General Edwin Meese III should direct all U.S. attorneys to step up prosecutions against cable TV stations and other purveyors of pornography. Congress should make it an unfair business practice and unfair labor practice for any employer to hire people to engage in sexual performances. This follows earlier proposals to use prostitution and pandering statutes, along with racketeering and forfeiture laws, against the X-rated film industry and other producers and distributors.
*The Federal Communications Commission should use its powers against cable and satellite stations that broadcast indecent movies.
Lynn said this is aimed mainly at R-rated films that the courts have held cannot be banned as obscene. He said parents should use "lockboxes" to regulate children's viewing.
Lynn accused the panel of trying "to smear an entire industry" by making erroneous charges that the Playboy Channel, the MTV music station and others have aired obscene material.
*Congress should ban "Dial-a-Porn" telephone messages.
Lynn said that people choose to dial such services or to subscribe to certain cable channels.
Lynn also charged the commission with misrepresenting scientific research in claiming a proven link between sexually violent material and aggressive behavior toward women. He also said the panel could claim no scientific basis to justify regulating three other categories of pornography -- that showing sexual activity that degrades women, sexual activity without degradation, and simple nudity -- and had to cite "moral, ethical and cultural" standards.
"That's nothing short of . . . the bias of each commissioner," Lynn said. Despite some dissension on the panel, he said, there are "six or seven solid votes" for the most sweeping recommendations.
Several corporations -- including CBS, Time Inc., Coca-Cola and RCA -- have sharply objected to commission staff papers that accuse them of financing pornographic movies and magazines. Time, for example, called the suggestions "fundamentally biased, inaccurate" and "outrageous." But Lynn said the panel has had "a chilling effect" on such retail chains as 7-Eleven, whose parent, Southland Corp., recently announced it would no longer sell Playboy and Penthouse magazines.