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Government Curbs and Cable Changes Suggested

By Ira Teinowitz
AdAge.com, November 29, 2005

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The entertainment industry isn’t doing enough to combat indecent programming on TV and government limits may be the answer, charged some senators at a congressional hearing today.

Sexually explicit
“My impression is the cable industry is compliant in promoting sexually explicit content and pornography in the home,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. “What you are doing may be legal, but it may not be best for the country and it may not be right.” He added: “I have an 11-year-old boy and my wife and I are scared to death to turn on TV because of what he might see on cable.”

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, didn’t detail specific legislation he’ll push. But it was clear at the hearing that the committee may expand its focus to cable programming and possibly look to government curbs on TV violence.

Empowering FCC
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., suggested that Congress may need to give the Federal Communications Commission some authority to act on violence complaints as well and decency complaints.

Mr. Stevens said he wanted suggestions ready in time for a committee legislative hearing Dec. 11. “With tumbling technology we have now, it is hard for those of us in government to know what to do,” he said.

He was quickly inundated with ideas at the hearing, with the most frequent suggestion that cable companies be forced to offer either a family-friendly tier or give subscribers the ability to pick and choose channels a la carte.

Those suggestions were offered by the chairman of the FCC -- reversing its earlier stance under former Chairman Michael Powell, who had rejected the idea of a la carte channels on the grounds that they wouldn’t work and would cause a decline in TV viewers.

New FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin took the unusual step of flatly rejecting his predecessor’s study on the issue. Describing the earlier study as wrong, based on incorrect data, wrong assumptions and one-sided information, he praised the concept of a family-friendly tier or a la carte choices, though he added that there were also some other possibilities. “Something should be done to address programming issues,” he said.

Also urging congressional action was David Moskowitz, exec VP-general counsel of satellite company EchoStar. He said his company wants to offer a family-friendly tier of service but is hamstrung because the local broadcast stations it needs to retransmit insist their OK hinges on EchoStar airing their parent companies’ cable channels in any basic cable package.

Broadcasters at the hearing said it is unfair to hold broadcast TV and cable TV to different decency standards when they compete and viewers have the ability to block any transmission through V-chip technology.

Jack Valenti, longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America who announced his retirement in July, suggested the TV industry’s ratings system, which he helped develop, had gotten too complicated, making it difficult to understand.


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