A proposed anti-pornography ordinance, aimed at material depicting sex and violence, went down to defeat Friday by an 8-4 Los Angeles City Council vote after opponents argued that the law would lead to censorship and harassment but offer few benefits not provided by existing laws.
"I don't want to get into the business of telling people what they ought to read. That's not the business of this council or of government in general," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
The ordinance would have set forth conditions under which people could sue manufacturers, distributors or exhibitors of "graphic pictorial depictions of sexual abuse which incites acts of sexual violence."
Under the proposed ordinance, which contained no criminal penalties, people could have sued if they were coerced into taking part in making objectionable material, forced to look at the material or harmed by someone who was incited to violence by the material.
Councilman Arthur K. Snyder contended that under the most recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings it would be virtually impossible to make a case that an act of sexual violence was provoked by a film.
Under the court's ruling, Snyder said, a situation would have to exist in which a film demanded, "All right, get out there and rape somebody right now, and then have someone go out there and actually do it."
The absence of those circumstances, said Snyder, would make it virtually impossible for someone to win a lawsuit, but it would not deter people from indiscriminately suing producers and publishers.
The ordinance, Snyder argued, would become "an instrument of harassment and a method of generating income for the legal profession."
Questioned by members of the council, Assistant City Atty. Maureen Siegel, who drew up the proposed ordinance, conceded that anyone coerced into making or watching objectionable material would have legal recourse under existing laws.
The proposed law was an outgrowth of a movement to give women the right to sue alleged pornographers on the grounds that pornography discriminates against women. After that argument was rejected last year by a federal judge ruling on an Indianapolis ordinance, officials here broadened their proposal to allow anyone to sue, providing they were coerced or harmed.
Once altered, however, the proposed Los Angeles ordinance lost the support of women's groups which had been among the catalysts for the measure and which argued that women are victimized by pornography.
Only one of the four women on the City Council voted for the ordinance. That was Joan Milke Flores. Council members Pat Russell and Peggy Stevenson voted against it. Councilwoman Joy Picus was absent. The other three council members voting for the ordinance were Ernani Bernardi, who sponsored the measure, Hal Bernson and Marvin Braude.