Commerce Committee Hears Indecency Testimony Again
November 29, 2005 at 11:30 AM (PT)
At the Senate Commerce Committee's open forum on indecency, the early focus was on the widely anticipated announcement by FCC Chairman KEVIN MARTIN of a proceeding to consider ordering cable and satellite TV operators to offer channels on an a la carte basis, adding an additional twist, the subjecting of cable and satellite channels offered on the basic and expanded basic tiers to indecency regulation.
MARTIN emphatically rejected last year's report by his predecessor MICHAEL POWELL and former Media Bureau Chief KEN FERREE that concluded a la carte and "family tier" pricing are not economically feasible. MARTIN said that the best solution would be for the industry to change on a voluntary basis, but concluded "something needs to be done."
Something needs to be done
In his testimony, former MPAA chief JACK VALENTI turned his guns on the Internet, saying that it "needs to be examined" and decrying the "pornography" he said is "rampant" there. Recalling the then-scandalous language of "WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF" and "BLOW UP" in the 60's, he touted the introduction of a voluntary ratings system for movies as protective of First Amendment rights while restricting the films' exhibition to children and told MARTIN that "this is the template" for what should be done about broadcast indecency, a self-regulation system.
No Perfect Solution
The PARENTS TELEVISION COUNCIL's L. BRENT BOZELL said that he is experiencing "a sense of frustration" over the way hearings are held and nothing changes. He disputed the contention that there isn't a groundswell of outrage by the public over indecency, and lamented the lack of action on Capitol Hill and from the BUSH administration on the issue.
"Why can't we get something done?" asked BOZELL, dismissing the V-chip and ratings systems as ineffective. He also dismissed free speech claims, saying that the SUPREME COURT has ruled on the issue, and rejected the idea that the market wants raunchy programming, asserting that people really want cleaner programming. "There is no perfect solution," BOZELL admitted, but said that this does not lead to the conclusion that there be no solution.
NAB Board Chairman BRUCE REESE's remarks stressed how most complaints about indecency came from one group (the PARENTS TELEVISION COUNCIL) and said "we should not mistake mass, Internet generated complaints for an organic outpouring of citizen outrage."
REESE also returned to the NAB's position that satellite radio and cable and satellite TV should be subject to the same indecency rules as for terrestrial broadcast media, noting that HOWARD STERN and OPIE AND ANTHONY are being allowed to do and say what they want on satellite (and noted that OPIE AND ANTHONY are also available to DIRECTV subscribers, although he incorrectly indicated that STERN will be available through SIRIUS' deal with DISH NETWORK -- he is not scheduled to be part of that service).
"The Committee should also balance any changes to the indecency regime with First Amendment concerns, REESE said. "Provisions in some recently circulated legislation could have a severe chilling effect on free speech. Any indecency legislation must have clear guidelines that are applied in a consistent manner. And, if the Committee alters the indecency regime, certain culpability protections should be included to provide balance and avoid unintended consequences."
CHRISTIAN COALITION President ROBERTA COMBS complained that her grandchildren can't watch the kind of wholesome TV programming she recalls from the 1950s. She supported the application of indecency rules to basic and expanded basic cable and satellite TV and increasing fines for indecency. (Later, CBS' MARTIN FRANKS told COMBS that the days of the kind of programming she recalled fondly were "long bygone" and noted that the network's own attempts at family-friendly programming in the 8p hour were "killed" in the ratings)
Call For Satellite, Cable To Go By Terrestrial Rules
CLEAR CHANNEL SVP JESSICA MARVENTANO took the position that satellite and cable should be subjected to the same indecency regulations as broadcasters and asserted that "we have taken a number of affirmative steps" to address the indecency problem, including firing hosts who "crossed the line" (unnamed, but including STERN and BUBBA THE LOVE SPONGE) and instituting its program to train hosts and suspend those who transgress. She also urged Congress not to give the FCC power to trigger a license revocation or block station transactions over indecency under sections 7, 8, and 9 of the House indecency bill.
Actor and CREATIVE COALITION co-President JOE PANTOLIANO told the panel that controversial programming like "THE SOPRANOS" (on which PANTOLIANO appeared), "SOUTH PARK," and "DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES" will continue as long as audiences give them ratings, and stressed that content ratings are preferable to government action, asking the government to "educate, not regulate" and to avoid censorship and "performer fines" that would undermine free expression.
PANTOLIANO noted that "performer fines" could financially ruin people, including a regular-citizen "man on the street" interviewee who says "the wrong thing." "Please don't sell away our artistic freedoms for a half million dollars," PANTOLIANO urged the panel, referring to the fines proposed in the pending indecency bills.
Air Talent First Amendment Rights At Issue
AFTRA General Counsel TOM CARPENTER spoke in defense of air talent, arguing that licensees, not individuals, are responsible for programming decisions. He expressed concern about proposed FCC fines of up to $500,000 for air talent, stressing First Amendment concerns regarding holding talent, as opposed to broadcasters, responsible for content.
INDUSTRY EARS Co-Founder LISA FAGER singled out Top 40 and Top 40/Rhythmic radio for criticism, characterizing much of their programming as "Adult-themed entertainment or audio porn." While not defending HOWARD STERN, she said that he obviously targets a young male audience, whereas Top 40 stations, which target teens, air programming and musical lyrics that are not appropriate for the format's 12-17 audience. Claiming that fines are irrelevant to billion dollar media conglomerates, she called for license revocation for stations found guilty of indecency violations.
Later, FAGER complained about explicit rap on the radio, noting that a recent hit (LIL JOHN's "GET LOW") refers to the term "skeet," meaning ejaculate, and the song was a hit on MTV and radio, "and now we're gonna ask these people to self-regulate? How is that gonna work?"