A federal court here yesterday delayed the effective date of a rule designed to limit “indecent” programming on cable-leased access channels.

The stay order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gives hope to a coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, that are fighting the provision on constitutional grounds.

The provision — attached to the cable-TV reregulation law by Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.) — allowed cable operators to voluntarily prohibit the carriage of all “indecent” programming on leased access channels.

Previously, cablers had been barred from enacting any editorial control over programming.

Cable operators who chose not to prohibit such shows were required to filter the programming through one channel. The only cable viewers who could then receive that channel were those who asked for its delivery.

Opponents of the provision included the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm headed by Andy Schwartzman. Schwartzman said his group maintains that “much of what’s shown on leased access channels is indistinguishable from R-rated programming shown on cable channels such as HBO.”

The court said yesterday that oral arguments will be held in the fall on whether the leased access lingo is constitutional. Even if the provision is upheld, it probably won’t take effect until next year, said Schwartzman.

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