Fulton, Missouri superintendent bans high school performances of “Grease” and “The Crucible.”
Rules the district with an iron fist?
From a New York Times article by Diana Jean Schemo:
When Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher at Fulton High here, staged the musical “Grease,” about high school students in the 1950’s, she carefully changed the script to avoid causing offense in this small town.She softened the language, substituting slang for profanity in places. Instead of smoking “weed,” the teenagers duck out for a cigarette. She rated the production PG-13, advising parents it was not suitable for small children.
But a month after the performances in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton’s superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized “immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play.”Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that “Grease” was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script.
Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.”That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some,” Dr. Enderle said.
He called “The Crucible” “a fine play,” but said he dropped it to keep the school from being “mired in controversy” all spring.
One irony is that “The Crucible” was about witch-hunts and metaphorically about Republican Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-artist crusade.
Another irony is that the kids who were rehersing “Grease” could have been somewhere else drinking alcohol, but were doing something constructive, instead. I’m glad they were allowed to put it on before the superintendent decided it was unsuitable.
The superintendent should have sought more input from the community than the three letters before reaching a decision on the musical or the play.
« SpeakSpeak »
The concept of this website, SpeakSpeak, relates to what happened in Fulton, Missouri.
For years, Brent Bozell’s “Parents Television Council” asked people to write the FCC to complain about supposed “indecency” on TV, but no one was asking the public to present the other side to the FCC.
The founder of SpeakSpeak, Amanda Toering, came up with the idea of asking people to contact the FCC when they have concluded that controversial material isn’t indecent.
Posted by Eric Jaffa
February 5, 2006 @ 11:24 pm
Filed under: TV
From an AP article by David Bauder:
They may not have flashed any body parts - except for Mick Jagger’s well-toned stomach - but the Rolling Stones made ABC glad editors were on duty for the Super Bowl halftime show.
Two sexually explicit lyrics were excised from the rock legends’ performance Sunday. The only song to avoid the editor was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” a 41-year-old song about sexual frustration.
In “Start Me Up,” the show’s editors silenced one word, a reference to a woman’s sexual sway over a dead man. The lyrics for “Rough Justice” included a synonym for rooster that the network also deemed worth cutting out.
ABC was the first network to impose a five-second tape delay on the Super Bowl, although it said the changes to the Stones’ show were made by the NFL and its producers. The sensitivity no doubt reflects a lingering reaction to Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction two years ago.
Apparently, the AP writer was as concerned about giving offense as the NFL Halftime Show producers.
David Bauder seems to be saying that during the Rolling Stone’s song, “Start Me Up,” instead of hearing Mick Jagger sing “You make a dead man come,” viewers of the Halftime Show heard, “You make a dead man.” Also, that the word “cocks” was censored from the Rolling Stone song, “Rough Justice.”
The Super Bowl broadcast didn’t censor the sight of men weighing over 300 pounds tackling each other.
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann does a nightly feature of naming the “Worst Person in the World.” Brent Bozell was a recent winner for being in charge of the “Cybercast News Service.”
CNS recently ran an article saying Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) didn’t deserve his two purple hearts from the Vietnam War.
The blog “Crooks and Liars” has the story, including the video.
Keith Olbermann names three Worst Persons in the World each weeknight. While Brent Bozell was #2 in August (for his defense of Rush Limbaugh smearing Cindy Sheehan) this is Bozell’s first time at #1, as far as I know.
« More About Brent Bozell’s Organizations »
Bozell is the president of the “Media Research Center” which claims that news coverage has a liberal bias. CNS is a division of the MRC.
In addition to being in charge of those organizations, Bozell is also president of the “Parents Television Council,” which urges people to complain to the FCC about supposed “indecency” on television.
SpeakSpeak, by contrast, asks people to contact the FCC when you don’t consider indecent something controversial which was shown on TV.
I was optimistic as this year started that Congress would set aside the indecency controversy for 2006.
Cable providers such as Time Warner had announced a “family-tier” of channels. The channels in that package are mostly appropriate for small children, and can be purchased separately from channels such as MTV.
Unfortunately, there are going to be two groups of decency panels convened for Senate hearings on January 19, 2006. One to discuss a new ratings system for TV, another to talk about passing indecency legislation.
On the indecency legislation panel will be “National Association of Broadcasters Joint Board Chairman Bruce Reese; Parents Television Council President Brent Bozell; CBS Executive VP Martin Franks; Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg; and Jeff McIntyre of the American Psychological Association. “
I assume that at least two of those people, Bruce Reese and Martin Franks, will oppose heavier indecency fines. Brent Bozell will support heavier indecency fines. As for Alan Rosenberg and Jeff McIntyre, I don’t know. But Jeff McIntyre has knocked “self-regulation” with regard to TV ratings, which isn’t an encouraging sign.
The big problem is that Congress should be addressing more important issues, like how to increase the supply of low-income housing. Congress shouldn’t be contemplating whether to further restrict freedom of speech. If Congress is to address freedom of speech at all, it should be investigating how to EXPAND freedom of speech.
« Brent Bozell and Jeff Jarvis »
A smaller problem is that while Brent Bozell, a well-known supporter of increasing indecency fines from outside the TV industry has been asked to testify, no one outside the TV industry known for advocating free speech has been asked to testify. Jeff Jarvis could be such a person, but hasn’t been invited.
Jeff Jarvis wrote today about his attempt to get on the panel.
During a press conference this morning, Howard Stern explained what he considers indecent.
Howard Stern doesn’t consider “doody” jokes indecent.
Things he does consider indecent:
• US soldiers in Iraq not having enough body armor.
• The Iraq War may have been started based on a lie.
• “The Religious Right” who oppose letting a woman choose an abortion and also oppose affirmative action for a hand up for people born into poverty.
• “The Religious Right” who like “The Taliban” are intolerant regarding contrary opinions, and also intolerant towards gays.
• The Catholic Church covering for abuse by priests by transferring the priests to another parish.
• Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) spending millions of our tax dollars on a bridge to nowhere.
Howard Stern is a controversial talk-radio host who often interviews strippers.
From MediaBuyerPlanner via Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine:
Two billboards touting Howard Stern’s switch from terrestrial to satellite radio have come down in the Chicago area, after a Catholic priest complained that the ads were insensitive to African Americans, according to The Chicago Defender. The ads featured a stylized, cartoonish fist raised in the air along with the caption, “Let freedom ring. And let it be rung by a stripper.” The fist is in black on a white background.
One of the billboards in question is owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, the other by Viacom Outdoor. The priest, Michael Pfleger, claims that Howard Stern has nothing to do with Dr. Martin Luther King or the civil rights movement, which the billboard and its “Let freedom ring” caption refers to.
He is quoted by NBC News as saying, “As we prepare to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, we will not tolerate this kind of disrespect… we should not have to tolerate it in our communities.”
The concept of the ad is that Howard Stern will have more freedom of speech to do his radio show after he moves from the public airwaves to Sirius Satellite radio this month; satellite radio isn’t covered by FCC indecency regulations.
Welcome to 2006.
« Indecency Bills »
I’m optimistic that there won’t be an indecency bill passed this year.
The “family-tier” compromise by cable providers should keep the indecency bills in Congress from moving forward.
« Current TV »
On August 1, 2005 Al Gore’s “Current TV” started on cable/satellite. It’s a channel which asks ordinary people to submit videos about news, fashion, and music. The channel is off to a good start. It has good graphics, a “Google Current” segment on the half-hour which works well, and some interesting videos.
I’m optimistic that “Current TV” will improve in 2006 as more people with ideas for short videos make them and send them in.
« Independent World Television: You Can Make It Happen! »
In 2007, there may be a commercial-free news channel with “uncompromising journalism,” a channel financed with donations from ordinary people (which takes no money from corporations and no money from the government.) It would be available for free over the internet, and on satellite channel “Free Speech TV.”
Or there may not be a new news channel in 2007. It’s up to us.
If you don’t have any money for this cause, you can still help out by signing up for emails from “Independent World Television.” A bigger email list will help them negotiate with cable companies as a sign of interest. IWT News has been sending emails to people who signed-up about once-per-month.
If you can make a donation to create IWT News, all the better.
Advisers to IWT News include Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Janeane Garofalo of Air America Radio.
The Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America held a joint conference call with reporters yesterday denouncing the cable industry’s plan to offer a “family-friendly” programming package. The groups are instead continuing with their attempts to extort the industry into offering a la carte programming.
Meanwhile, leaders of other religious groups oppose a la carte-ism because of the (realistic) possibility that religious programming will disappear from a large percentage of subscribers’ homes.
From Broadcasting & Cable:
The Parent’s Television Council (PTC), whose members have filed a large portion of all the indecency complaints at the FCC, will join with Concerned Women of America (CWA) Thursday in a conference call press conference declaring that the announced tiers aren’t sufficient and that they will join to push for full-blown cable a la carte.
Following the Senate Commerce Committee’s indecency hearing Monday, Stevens said of the tiers: “[I]t should be able to meet the demands that were made of use by the family-based organizations.”
But after that same hearing, which was a follow-up to an earlier one attended by Brent Bozell, the PTC president said that the tiers were a “red herring.”
“The only model Congress should consider and the cable industry should provide is an a la carte cable choice model,” Bozell said in a statement, “giving consumers the ability to choose and pay for the programs they want, and opt-out of what they don’t. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Together, CWA and PTC comprise some 1.5 million members (PTC says its rolls top a million and CWA pegs its head count at 500,000).
More receptive to the tiering plan were Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and the Faith and Family Values Coalition, both praised the tier, but both also oppose a la carte cable, fearing it could push religious channels off the dial.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 12:26 pm
Filed under: FCC
FCC nominee Deborah Tate and incumbent Michael Copps faced a blandly welcoming Senate Commerce Committee today. Tate has been nominated to fill the seat left by Michael Powell earlier this year, and Copps was renominated after his term expired.
According to a report in the National Journal, both Tate and Copps expressed to the committee concerns about indecent content on television.
The nominees were peppered with questions on a wide range of issues, including indecency, Internet telephony and congressional efforts to update the nation’s telecom laws, but faced no resistance from the panel.
Tate said that as a mother of three, she has many concerns about “indecent” television content. “It’s important that the commission enforces the laws that we have,” she said.
Copps said Congress needs to keep the pressure on the TV industry to offer family-friendly content and should not rule out legislation. “I wouldn’t give us good marks,” he said of the FCC’s steps on indecency, grading the agency a failing “D-” or “F.”
Tate, citing her background as a mediator, said that as a state regulator she has focused on consumer outreach and forging industry consensus. Copps, a gadfly on communications issues who often has butted heads with Republicans on the FCC, pointedly praised Stevens for the latter’s indecency crackdown and cited Ronald Reagan as a role model.
An LA Times article on the nomination hearings says that Tate demurred when asked how she’d act on the commission, “saying she wasn’t yet versed on the issues.”
Perfect. Big controversy. High Constitutional stakes. Open seat on key federal agency. Hey, let’s install a lapdog who doesn’t know the issues!
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 4:29 pm
Filed under: FCC
BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis reports that there’s grim news on the First Amendment front.
Cable mergers, Howard Stern, mandated a la carte, kicked-up indecency legislation, Michael Copps (”the FCC commissioner from hell”), and Euro censors — Jarvis has it all, baby.
Read more at BuzzMachine.
« Update of December 16, 2005 »
It turn out that people who order the family tier won’t get MTV and similar channels. Details here.
« Original Main »
A group of cable channels intended for families with small children could be a good idea. But it depends on the details.
From David Ranii for The News & Observer of North Carolina:
Time Warner Cable spokesman Keith Cocozza confirmed that the company will introduce a family-friendly package soon.
“The family tier we are considering would be offered as an addition to basic-only service,” he said. Because the basic tier is the minimum level of service subscribers can receive, such a tier would be available at additional cost to all subscribers.
Does Keith Cocozza mean that families who just want “The Disney Channel” and other G-rated channels would still pay for racier channels such as MTV and FX?
If so, this announcement will just delay the “indecency” controversy (what should Congress do about indecency, if anything?) until the day the service is offered. (The packages could materialize “as early as March,” says Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.)
The family tier, as described, won’t satisfy critics a bit. Groups like the Parents Television Council regard having to pay for MTV to get other cable channels as a big issue.
« The family-tier should be stand-alone and low-priced »
I believe that the cable industry should say that people who only want “The Disney Channel” (and similarly G-rated channels) can get just those channels for a low-price.
Offering G-rated channels alone for a low-price would calm things down. It would stop Congress from trying to extend “indecency” regulations to cable and from mandating a la carte programming.
I don’t want Congress to pass an indecency bill. A family tier that is only available to people who subscribe to basic cable may not be enough to stop Congress from passing an indecency bill.
« Update of December 16, 2005 »
It turn out that people who order the family tier won’t get MTV and similar channels. Details here.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 13, 2005 @ 1:13 pm
Filed under: Indecency
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dimitri Vassilaros points out that Senator Ted Stevens has a bit of an indecent skeleton hiding in his own closet.
Kevin Martin could be auditioning for the lead in “Nanny 911.”
Mr. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, just might land the starring role in the TV reality show because he wants to bring order to American households that subscribe to cable TV.
Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in its “Open Forum on Decency” a few days ago, Martin said he was displeased with what he thought was a significant increase in sex and profanity on TV as well as with broadcasters for airing “some of the coarsest programming ever aired.”
Martin, who had been an FCC commissioner before President George W. Bush nominated him for chairman in March, suggested that cable companies offer so-called a la carte purchasing so subscribers only would order what they want instead of a package of channels that could include family-unfriendly programming such as MTV.
And in classic “good cop/bad cop” style, committee chair Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, warned that if the cable industry does not become more sensitive to the supposed needs of wholesome families, well, then Congress would be forced to act.
That would be the same Ted Stevens who was chosen Porker of the Month in July 2003 by Citizens Against Government Waste. The same Stevenson who never met an earmark he didn’t like for his state, including that $223 million of pork earmarked for the “Bridge to Nowhere” to be used by about 50 Alaskans. Speaking of indecency.
Gentlemen, America thanks you for your service by using the bully pulpit, and the threat of government edict, to tell American corporations how to operate their businesses. Who, other than social conservative scolds, knew that something had to be done about the racy shows and channels that cable subscribers — typically adults — voluntarily subscribe to?
Now that Republican politicians and political appointees are using their combined wisdom, and the power of the state, to end the bundling of products in the cable TV industry, these social conservative scolds could help consumers of other products or services that Big Business markets as a package.
Why must consumers be held hostage whenever they walk into a Denny’s restaurant and are forced to pay for the two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, two bacon strips, two sausage links, hash browns or grits or bread and a small glass of juice and coffee of a Denny’s Grand Slam Slugger when they didn’t want that second egg?
Are these victims of bundling any less important than cable TV customers?
Why should Toyota Camry buyers be forced to purchase the Convenience Plus Package B when they did not want the manually retractable rear sunshade?
And what of those who feel as if they must accept the Holy Trinity when they only bought into the Father?
Condescending conservatives are just as bad as condescending liberals. Both know what’s best for all adults, and when they assume the controls of government, both use the power of the state to treat adults as if they were wayward dull children.
Has anyone noticed the absolutely stunning hypocrisy of Mr. Stevens? How many appropriations bills has Stevens unbundled so the public could judge the merits of each earmark as a separate expenditure?
But why bother when conservatives care more about indecency on the screen than in the Senate.
This title is the slogan that cable channel Comedy Central is using to advertise Howard Stern’s interview with Jon Stewart on Tuesday’s “The Daily Show.”
Comedian Howard Stern is moving from broadcast radio, in which indecency is illegal, to satellite radio, where it’s legal to say almost anything.
Indecency is vaguely defined as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
Please let your Congressperson and Senators know that you DON’T want indecency regulations applied to satellite radio (or satellite television or cable television). In other words, please ask Congress to maintain free speech on those systems.
You can find contact information for Congress at
From John Eggerton at Broadcasting & Cable:
The Congressional Research Service, the public-policy research arm of Congress, has apparently been busy pondering the legal ramifications of changes to FCC indecency enforcement…. The new report is on the constitutionality of applying the FCC’s indecency restrictions to cable and satellite — a hot topic in Washington these days — and the second is on the prospects for a challenge to the FCC’s ruling that even fleeting, adjectival use of the f-word is indecent.
As is the rule with such reports, they essentially lay out the various possible legal scenarios rather than handicapping success, but the cable report says that it “seems uncertain whether the court would find that denying minors access to ‘indecent’ material on cable TV would constitute a compelling governmental interest.”
On the issue of whether the prohibition on the broadcast of “indecent” words regardless of context violates the First Amendment, the report points to arguments that the “proliferation of cable channels has rendered archaic Pacifica’s denial of full First Amendment rights to broadcast media.”
But even if the spectrum scarcity argument still holds, the report said, Pacifica, the last high court ruling on broadcast indecency,”did not hold that the First Amendment permits the ban either of an occasional expletive on broadcast media or of programs that would not be likely to attract youthful audiences, even if some programs contain ‘indecent’ language.”
Parents Television Council gadfly-in-chief Brent Bozell has offered to drop his push for indecency regulation of cable/satellite channels, provided that Congress “quickly” passes legislation increasing indecency fines to $500,000 per incident. Bozell’s “compromise” also asks the Feds to require cable and satellite providers to offer a la carte programming.
From Broadcasting & Cable:
In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, Bozell urged Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to “quickly” pass legislation to boost indecency fines to $500,000 per incident (it is now $32,500 per) and to require cable to provide channels a la carte so that viewers can reject unwanted content.
If they will do that, he says, then “if the industry wants to air this indecent programming, it can do so on cable television, which is not governed by federal indecency regulations. The top-six media companies own two-thirds of the networks on cable, so they have innumerable delivery vehicles on which they can air this material. Thus, their artistic freedom is insured.”
Does anyone really believe that Bozell and his lapdogs are dropping this bone? Picture Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.
The PTC may back off their immediate campaign to rid cable TV of programming intended for adults. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the issue is moot for them.
And does Bozell really think he’s important and powerful enough to give the government an ultimatum? (Yes, unfortunately, he does.)
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 6, 2005 @ 11:51 am
Filed under: Indecency
U.S. television and cable industry representatives met on Monday to try to address concerns about racier shows and head off possible government regulations, two sources familiar with the talks said.
The meeting included a discussion on how to deal with confusion over different rating systems for television shows and movies, which advocacy groups have complained are inadequate, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The closed-door meeting, organized by veteran entertainment industry lobbyist Jack Valenti, followed a U.S. Senate forum last week where the industry was pressured to help parents shield children from programs with sexual or profane content.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and some lawmakers have urged cable companies like Comcast Corp. to offer “family-friendly” programming packages or permit consumers to pay for only the channels they want.
Television and radio broadcasters are restricted from airing overtly sexual or profane shows except late at night when children are less likely to be awake. Those rules do not apply to cable or satellite.
Most cable companies have resisted the pressure, arguing that their content cannot be regulated because consumers pay for it and such restrictions would violate free speech rights.
Valenti, who helped develop a rating system for the movie industry, urged lawmakers to let the industry come up with a solution.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, has agreed to allow the industry time to adopt voluntary standards but refused to rule out congressional action.
In late 1996, television broadcasters, cable companies and the movie industry developed a rating system for television shows and then added content descriptions after complaints. Most television sets made after 1999 include a V-chip technology that allows parents to block some shows.
The Parents Television Council, which wants to block sexual content and profanity on television, complained in April that many ratings did not contain accurate warnings about language, sexual content or violence.
The television industry has taken a few steps to address the criticism, showing a program’s rating after commercial breaks and making the symbols bigger. Cable companies also have run advertisements to show parents how to block out channels.
It only took a couple years of post-Nipple bloviating by the Parents Television Council, as well as the November 29th showdown amongst watchdogs and industry personnel (which Broadcasting & Cable dubbed the meeting of the “Decency All-Stars”). Finally, the mainstream press is opening its eyes to the possibility that the government will soon use prior restraint to censor television content on cable and satellite TV — and, to an even greater extent, on broadcast channels.
A recent spate of op-eds address the Orwellian future hinted at by the November 29th indecency summit. The most favorite-est quote being lobbed about: “You can always turn the television off and of course, block the channels you don’t want. But why should you have to?”
That one comes from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Scary, no? The Chairman is finally, officially, making the Parents Television Council’s argument for them: Complex, challenging shows produced for adults have no business even existing. Come on now, let’s all go to church!
The indecency tale in the major media has consistently been told from the perspective of the culture crusaders — those who believe that content unappealing (or offensive) to them should be off-limits to the rest of us.
[Here’s a similar — and similarly ludicrous — argument. Personally, I’d never be caught dead in a pair of fire-engine red overalls. Therefore, none of the rest of you should wear them. Ever. That’s it. Red overalls are hereby forbidden from the rest of your lives.]
But I digress. The point is, the press is finally catching up. With luck, they’re sweating a bit. After the moralizers get their hands on TV and remake it in their own image, the presses could be next. No more indecent Victoria’s Secret ads in the glossy news mags? Do you feel your livelihood slipping away, dear reporter?
They’re late to the party, but at least they showed up. It’s crucial — it’s crucial — that the public recognizes that the Decency Brigade is outnumbered by those of us uncomfortable with political censorship.
Here are some of the late-coming reports from the trenches.
« Jimmy Greenfield, Chicago Tribune (December 1, 2005) »
I] appears Kevin Martin now wants to go after the cable smut, which I agree is exactly as he says it is. It’s not family-friendly, and it’s certainly indecent. That’s as it is, and as it should be.
At $61 a month we should get some dirty words and exposed breasts, at the very least. If he wants to censor something, he can take Bill O’Reilly off the air, and I won’t even ask for any of my money back.
In any event, I don’t think Martin is going to get his hands on my indecent TV shows because he’s biting off more than he can chew. Just listen to this gem of a sentence he ripped off during Tuesday’s hearings.
“You can always turn the television off and of course, block the channels you don’t want,” he said. “But why should you have to?”
Take that sentence to its extreme, and before you know it, we won’t have any TV. As in: “You can always turn the television off and of course, block the channels you don’t want, and you surely can have Congress censor shows we don’t want you to watch but why should we have to? No more TV!”
That’s where Martin and I disagree. He might not need TV; I do. But if he fixes it so I don’t have to pay for Lifetime anymore, I’ll happily support him.
More in the Chicago Trib.
« Staff Editorial, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent »
It’s too much, the Federal Communications Commission says. Too much sex on TV, too much violence, too much profanity. On the networks, but especially on cable and satellite channels.
The industry needs to do something, the FCC says. It isn’t doing enough to protect children from this type of programming.
That’s true. The industry isn’t doing enough. But before we lay all the responsibility — meaning all the blame — for what children can see on TV onto the television industry, it’s important to realize who has the greatest responsibility:
But the FCC doesn’t have any control over them. It has at least some control over television.
To that end, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told Congress on Tuesday that if the TV industry doesn’t clean itself up, the federal government would do it.
“Parents need better and more tools to help them navigate the entertainment waters, particularly on cable and satellite TV,” Martin said, according to the Associated Press.
Though tools already exist — a rating system, V-chips on TVs, other blocking devices — sure, the industry could do more.
But no matter what changes the TV industry adopts, no matter how much the FCC threatens to fine networks for “indecent” programs, there’s always going to be a measure of sex, violence and profanity on some channels at some times. The public demands it.
And that leads us back to the greatest tools parents have when they allow their children to watch TV:
The remote. The on-off switch. And themselves.
Read the rest in the Post-Crescent.
« Staff Editorial, DesMoines Register »
Watch television. Maybe a bare butt or profane word catches your attention here and there.
Then watch television with your child or grandchild. Profanity and sexual innuendoes seem to dominate the screen.
And, well, they do. Which means parents must actually be parents by monitoring what their kids watch.
Parents are rightfully sensitive to inappropriate content. They can use the parental controls offered by satellite and cable companies to block channels. They can turn off the tube. They can cancel cable or satellite entirely.
Because that’s what parents — as heads of their households — can do. It’s certainly not the job of the federal government to handle that. But that doesn’t stop the Federal Communications Commission from trying.
During a Senate Commerce Committee forum on indecency this week, Kevin Martin, FCC chairman, suggested companies offer a “family friendly” tier of channels or allow customers to pay for only the channels they choose. Martin said providers need to find a way to police smut on TV.
But the FCC doesn’t have the authority to force the cable and satellite industry to bundle channels or offer a la carte programming. Congress shouldn’t do it, either.
The free market should dictate cable and satellite programming and pricing. If enough customers want a la carte programming, the industry will respond. If enough customers get fed up with the profanity, they’ll let companies know.
Or they’ll speak with their pocketbooks by canceling subscriptions to cable and satellite.
From the pages of the Register.
« Nick Gillespie, Reason Magazine »
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation took time out of its busy schedule screwing up commerce, science and transportation to host an “open forum on decency.” The various politicians mooning for the cameras weren’t calling for the sort of decency that was in sad and short supply during Joe McCarthy’s heyday. No, they were bloviating about the dread rise of Sex on TV, the phantom menace of fart jokes on shows such as The Family Guy, and the continuing propensity of pop music to generate smash hits with songs about fucking.
Even by the show-trial standards of congressional hearings, Tuesday’s spectacle was appalling. Blue-nosed censors and representatives of entertainment companies and radio and TV networks shouldered each other out of the way to denounce “coarse” and “vulgar” programming that might offend someone, somewhere in America and insisted that something—including government action—must be done to save the freest nation on Earth from the cable and satellite programming that 85 percent of households willingly pay for each and every month. Sure, the U.S. survived the burning of Washington during the War of 1812, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, and the unparalleled horror of 9/11. But how can we ever survive another season of Desperate Housewives? Or, perhaps more specifically, how can “the children” survive occasional glimpses of age-inappropriate content?
In the Bizarro universe of the Senate Commerce committee and the sex-addled minds of would-be censors, the flashing of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII was a primal scene that even Freud dare not imagine: Like a hundred thousand Challenger explosions or an endless tape loop of the Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination, that tit has apparently been seared into the collective unconscious of American youth, forever staining their souls and casting our preteen Adams and Eves out of Eden and into a sick, sad world of small-screen smut.
The nipple tragedy has presented America with its clearest and most urgent moral choice since the great Fat Elvis vs. Skinny Elvis stamp controversy of 1992, and in Tuesday’s hearings, even supposed opponents of new content regulation were desperate to show their pro-decency colors.
The most disturbing speaker at Tuesday’s hearing was the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin. “You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want,” he observed. “But why should you have to?”
That stunning bit of censorious logic, with its depiction of media consumers as slothful, slack-jawed dullards unable even to flick a button on their remotes, would embarrass even the most inane pop culture critics who contend that viewers are submissive automatons effectively programmed by evil corporations to buy, buy, buy and/or by liberal Hollywood to support gay marriage and universal access to Baby Einstein products.
There are countless reasons why you—yes, you—should be the one to turn your own TV on and off, or to block your own channels. But here are just two:
First, this is supposed to be a free country that rightly prides itself on an unmatched dedication to open expression. The past 30 years have witnessed nothing less than an explosion in cultural production and consumption; the number of books, movies, television programs, songs, and more now effectively approaches infinity, leaving us increasingly hyper-individualized options for entertainment and edification. And opportunities to be offended. The First Amendment, which underwrites religious, press, and artistic freedom, is first for a reason. Your right to speak your mind is purchased at the cost of my right to offend you with my own speech, art, and opinions. Martin and many in Congress have threatened that government action against cable and satellite services will be necessary if content providers don’t “voluntarily” address the notoriously subjective category of “indecency.” To limit expression—especially expression that people voluntarily choose to buy—is to choke off one of the defining features of contemporary America.
The second reason that we should be held responsible for turning our own TVs on and off? That’s what the vast majority of parents with children under the age of 17, ostensibly the group most concerned with raunchy programming, believe in. Consider a new survey commissioned by TV Watch, a nonpartisan coalition to which I belong and which flatly opposes government regulation of programming. The survey, which polled 513 parents nationwide in mid-November, found that while 83 percent of parents said there were times their kids saw something they shouldn’t have, 85 percent want individuals to have personal choice in what to view on TV. Only 8 percent of respondents wanted the government to determine what’s “appropriate” for television. The survey also found that 91 percent of parents already exercise various forms of control over what their kids watch. Parents — and I speak as one myself — recognize that we don’t have the right force everyone else to child-proof every sharp corner in the world (and that’s assuming parents, any more than other adults, agree on what constitutes good, bad, and indifferent content).
Back in the early days of cable, MTV—then, as now, a channel that enrages the few viewers it doesn’t bore to tears—ran a memorable ad campaign in which rock stars demanded, “I want my MTV!” If the continuing popularity of cable and satellite is any indication—chock full of the “coarse programming” Martin, Stevens, et al. decry, cable now pulls a bigger prime-time audience than broadcast TV—we as a nation still want our MTV, and our Comedy Central, and our HBO, and an unprecedented proliferation of kids-only channels ranging from Noggin to Sprout to seemingly endless Disney and Sesame Street outlets. With Stevens threatening to pass legislation on the issue in 2006, this is as good a time to tell your congressmen and senators to fuck off—while you still can without enduring a fine for indecency.
Full version — with plenty of vitriol — at Reason Magazine.
« BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis, New Jersey Star Ledger »
Howard Stern is leaving broadcast radio later this month for satellite. The posse of prudes who hounded him — with their eager accomplices on the Federal Communications Commission, who levied $2.5 million in fines against him — may celebrate cleaning up our airwaves. But they have done much more: They are hastening the collapse of mass media, wounding the First Amendment and sucking the life, honesty and fun out of broadcast. That is what is truly indecent.
For me, Stern was an acquired taste. I assumed what everyone did hearing his occasional gassy gag. But after listening to him, I learned that he is greater than the sum of his farts. Stern has to be an incredible entertainer to keep millions amused four hours a day. But more important, in a media universe where personalities are manufactured and their words sanitized for our protection, Stern stands alone as an honest man, unafraid to say what he — and we — think. It made big news during Katrina coverage when TV reporters did that. Stern does it every day.
But the pressure groups targeted Stern as the poster boy for their agenda of cultural control. The Parents Television Council created online kvetch factories where its followers could automatically file complaints. Another of its targets, Fox’s “Married by America,” was levied the FCC’s largest fine, $1.2 million, for questionable use of whipped cream. This came after the marketplace had already killed the show, without any help from the FCC or Parents Television Council. I then filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see all 159 complaints that the FCC said triggered the crackdown. It turns out they came from only 23 people, 21 of whom had merely forwarded the canned Parents Television Council letter. Just whose community standards are being enforced? Fox is the rare media company fighting the fine; most give in and settle because, Stern has argued, the FCC blackmails them with threats about license renewals.
The damage to speech is clear. Broadcast continues to be exempt from full First Amendment protection based on antiquated views of media — that these are public airwaves (so why don’t the wishes of the larger public trump those of the few?), that broadcast is unique (though young people today don’t know the difference between broadcast and cable channels and soon won’t know the difference between any channel and an iTunes download) and that broadcast is pervasive (which is less true as the Internet grows). This is the hole in the First Amendment ozone layer that allowed a pressure group to use government to regulate speech.
So the culture is chilled. Today we live in an age of offense, when our worst sin is to offend anyone. From the left, this is political correctness; from the right, it is the fight against indecency. They each think they’re making culture safe. Instead they’re making it dull. That is why both artists and audience are fleeing to new media: Stern goes to satellite. HBO is producing our best entertainment. And I blog because there are no rules there but mine and my readers’. Though there are those in Congress who would extend the First Amendment exception to cable, at least we can still get what we want so long as we pay for it. Free speech ain’t free.
The rest of the editorial can be found at the Star-Ledger. Visit Jarvis’ BuzzMachine for more still.
« Reader Response, Orlando Sentinel »
One reader’s response to a Sentinel op-ed posted here last week.
Let me get this straight. The new head of the Federal Communications Commission wants to use the heavy hand of the federal government to force cable and satellite TV to clean up the content of their programming. I agree wholeheartedly.
Let’s start with the TV evangelists who routinely bilk millions of dollars out of the gullible. Then we can go after the infomercials that use the most fanciful sales practices that easily could be proved to be financially harmful to the less-informed.
Please, FCC, save me from myself. Hold on, I forgot, we’re trying to save the children.
The new chairman of the FCC, Kevin Martin, recently stated, “You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want, but why should you have to?”
Amen. I could be a responsible parent and make sure my children are watching age-appropriate shows, “but why should you have to?” Parents have had the ability to block programming on their TVs for more than a decade now, “but why should you have to?”
It’s not like parents had any responsibility for the children being here in the first place. Heaven forbid they should have to take time out of their busy day to check on what the little ones are watching. Thank you, FCC, for stepping up to the plate and removing another bothersome task of parenthood.
By the way, where were you for the whole diaper thing?
Stephen L. Steingass
Winter Park, FL
« And then there was Brent »
The line-up wouldn’t be complete without Brent Bozell’s blathering. This one’s from an article published at Human Events Online.
They argued endlessly that no one wants government to control content. It sounds so good, particularly because you know the boogey-word that surely follows. Censorship! It was a dodge, and not a very good one at that. Of course no one wants government oversight, except government already has oversight, mandated by Congress in the Communications Act of 1934, and affirmed by the Supreme Court. It states that the public airwaves are owned by the public, and any network using them must — not should, must — abide by community standards of decency between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The industry has grossly, deliberately violated this law time and again — because it could. For years a toothless FCC refused to exercise its oversight responsibility, and when finally it awoke from its slumber three years ago, it found its authority — a fine of $32,500 for violations — was laughable in the eyes of multi-billion dollar media giants. For two consecutive years the House has passed new legislation increasing the fines to a real $500,000 maximum per violation with the threat of a three-strikes-and-you’re-out license revocation for repeat violators. Although numerous Senate bills have been proposed along these lines, nothing has moved in that chamber. Passage of a similar bill there would put real pressure on those in the industry breaking the law.
They argued next that the V-chip miraculously could resolve it all. There’s only one problem. It’s been around for over a decade now and is an unmitigated disaster. It relies on the ratings system. Innumerable studies have shown them to be a useless tool, a mumble-jumble mess of inaccurate, or misleading, or simply missing content and age descriptors. Surprise, surprise. The very industry responsible for the indecent programming is responsible for attaching ratings to it. The V-chip as a tool to control indecent content has actually backfired. With the ratings system in place, the industry has introduced the most obscene programming ever and justified it by placing “Mature” labels on it.
Their third and final argument is the clincher: There is a market for this indecent content, and if the market wants it, the market should have the right to receive it. Anything that violates that rule is an infringement on free speech and artistic freedom, etc., etc.
It is here that the news outside the packed hearing room was volcanic. The FCC is set to release a report showing cable rates will actually decrease, not increase as the cable industry has been insisting, if basic expanded cable goes “a la carte” (aka “cable choice”), meaning that the consumer is allowed to choose what networks he wishes to subscribe to on cable. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also formally endorsed the “a la carte” restructuring of cable.
And that’s the road map for a solution: Broadcasters must abide by the law governing indecency on the broadcast airwaves, and suffer the legal consequences otherwise. If they wish to air indecent programming, they can put it on their cable networks, to their hearts’ delight. The handful of media giants that control broadcast television also own two-thirds of everything seen on cable, so they have endless delivery vehicles at their disposal.
With cable choice in place, the consumer who wants grizzly violence, raunchy sex, and potty-mouth language can have it, simply by choosing to take it. The consumer who wants this offensive junk off his family’s television set can choose not to have it, and will no longer be forced to subsidize it.
It is the perfect market-based solution, giving the industry everything it wants — except the ability to extort billions of dollars of cash from offended customers.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 1, 2005 @ 11:13 am
Filed under: FCC
Tuesday’s “open forum” on indecency has been rehashed numerous times in various publications. It seems that only Salon.com, however, is fully fleshing-out the story.
Salon’s Michael Scherer describes the meeting, which politicos tried to bill as the Yalta Summit of the indecency debacle, as “more than six hours of bickering, distracting debates and cross talk.”
When Bill Bailey, an executive for XM Satellite Radio, made the case that his broadcasts should not be regulated for indecency since they are not public, Jessica Marventano, an executive from Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio chain, objected, calling that a “distinction without a difference.” Network execs from CBS and ABC, who bragged about their elaborate standards reviews, spent their time sparring with a rural cable provider about an unrelated price dispute.
Bruce Reese, who heads the National Association of Broadcasters, complained that his members were being treated “as second-class citizens” because they used the public airwaves and were subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.
Across the room, a representative of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, home to several dubious, and wealthy, televangelists, spent his time arguing with Kyle McSlarrow, the head of the National Cable Television Association, over whether his station should be carried in basic cable packages. When the topic turned to indecency, McSlarrow, who opposes any regulation of cable, changed the subject. He said his greatest concern was the violent images of war shown on the nightly news. “It’s my job to keep [my children] out of the TV area when the news is on,” he said.
But the best fireworks flew between two other members of the panel, conservative scold L. Brent Bozell III of the Parents Television Council and Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America. Valenti, dressed in impeccable pinstripes with white cuffs, was the shortest man in the room but he cast the largest shadow, seducing the gallery of lobbyists and reporters with his trademark erudition and wit, including a couple of anecdotes from his days as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson.
Valenti, 84, who is responsible for the voluntary rating system used in movies, argued that the television industry should regulate its own content. He had no patience for all the conservative shock and awe over the occasional broadcast slip-up, like Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. “The idea that the whole county, all of us, get upset over a three-second version of an artificial breast to me is the most absurd thing in the world,” he said. “As if you can’t go into any museum and see nude women. My god, the Venus de Milo is known all around the world.”
“You knew Venus de Milo. You were probably a friend of hers,” Bozell shot back a few minutes later, taking a dig at Valenti’s age by paraphrasing the words of Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 vice-presidential debates. “Janet Jackson is no Venus de Milo.”
Bozell argued that the problem was not simply a matter of educating parents to screen their children from indecent content. He wanted certain television shows removed. “We are not talking about little indecencies here. We are talking about big, big indecencies,” he said. “And I want to ask people around this room, and our friends at the networks, to tell me where there is a market demand for the things we are now talking about protecting.” He was referring to pedophilia, incest, bestiality and necrophilia, themes that often turn up in TV crime dramas, notably the nation’s favorite show, “CSI.”
More in Salon. (Watch a brief commercial for a free day pass.)
One of the biggest ironies in the debate over television “indecency” is the Right’s constant clamoring for additional legislation and regulation.
But wait a minute — aren’t they supposed to be the advocates for small government?
I’ve said since SpeakSpeak’s inception that increased indecency regulation ought to be an issue that true Democrats and true Republicans can agree on: One side is supposed to oppose the carte blanche codification of the religious right’s dogma, while the other is supposed to oppose needless government regulation.
Guess we’re past all that now, eh?
Anyhow, an editorial in the Delaware County (PA) Daily Times asks the same questions.
Since the era of Ronald Reagan, the mantra of the conservative movement in America has been, “Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.” It’s a familiar refrain: The size of the government should shrink. Regulations should be shorn. Give the free market free reign and everything will work out for the best.
But now with the Supreme Court, the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate all controlled by good, solid, Republicans, it seems that those rules are meant to be broken.
The latest example came this week when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin appeared before Congress to suggest that indecency rules should be broadened to cover cable and satellite TV as well as regular broadcast channels.
It’s the latest volley in a crusade for public decency that took off after Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed for a millisecond during the halftime show at the Super Bowl two years ago.
Somehow, the republic survived that fusillade, but the usual suspects are jacking up the pressure to prevent similar horrors in the future. The Christian Coalition, for example, wants Congress to up the fines against indecent programming from the current $32,500 max per violation to $500,000.
(Presumably calling for the murder of a foreign head of state, as Christian Coalition founder the Rev. Pat Robertson did recently, would not be covered under that definition of “indecent.”)
“You can always turn the television off and of course block the channels you don’t want,” he told the Senate. “But why should you have to?”
Why, indeed. Why should a parent accept any responsibility for the welfare of their child? Why monitor what they watch on TV, the CDs they listen to, the Web sites they visit, or friends they make online? We should just depend on the nanny state of the federal government to eliminate all the risks and all the hazards a child might encounter from birth to age 18 (or 21, which the federal government insists should be the official national drinking age).
Of course, the Martin motion would totally abrogate the rights of adults who might just want to see adult programming — and are willing to pay extra for the privilege, to boot.
Nah, that would be too easy. For sake of “the children,” adults can’t be treated like adults anymore. Everyone should exist on the intellectual level of the average 6-year-old.
Like those so-called conservatives railing against “activist” judges who rule against their pet causes (but push for their own “activist” judges who will reverse course and set the world right), today’s virtue police exist in a world of black and white in which “choice,” in any sense of the word, would be banned …for the good of “the children.”
And who knows? Perhaps the world will be a better place and everyone will be happier.
More in the DelCo Daily Times.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 1, 2005 @ 10:36 am
Filed under: Indecency
Orlando Sentinel guest op-edder Lisa Scott takes culture crusaders and the FCC to task for trying to raise her children. Along the way, she says what few people are brave enough to say: Crap TV is a-okay!
(And you know what? It is okay.)
From Scott’s piece in the Sentinel:
In an article Wednesday about cable and satellite television decency, Federal Communications Chairman Chairman Kevin Martin was quoted as saying, “You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want, but why should you have to?”
That’s right. You should be able to stick your head out of the cave you obviously live in, look around, and not see, hear, smell, taste or feel anything that in any way offends you. Never mind that some people in our world are adults, some are teens, and some are children. Never mind that some people are beautiful, others sort of plain, and others flower-withering clock-stoppers. Some people bathe every day, while some emit visible stink rays. And some people have tastes and ideas that are very different from yours and mine.
My husband and I have two teenagers whom we have reared in the presence of the same TV set that, according to the chairman of the FCC, can do them so much damage. We did what parents are supposed to do — their TV privileges have always been very limited and carefully monitored, using the tools provided by broadcasters and TV manufacturers. We watched appropriate shows with them, talking about the content. Occasionally, on rainy days, when steam was starting to come out of my ears from a little too much togetherness, I even used Sesame Street as a baby-sitter so I could read in peace. (Feel free to try me for that — a jury of my peers would never convict.)
I don’t want to live in a vanilla world. I want lots of reds and blacks and plaids and swirls of color. I want to chuckle at bad taste, and to turn off the television in disgust when I see crummy programming. Mostly, I want a window on the real world, with programming that reflects who we are, with all our warts. We are both noble and shameful, deep and shallow, thrilling and boring, sexual and asexual, fabulously talented and shockingly untalented. When our kids were young, we muted the colors of their world to pastels. The adult world has vibrant color.
I’m afraid of “federal decency standards.” Your decency isn’t necessarily mine. We can take sensible precautions, such as airing adult material at night, and having systems in place to block unwanted channels. (And that “off” switch, that the FCC’s Martin dismissed so lightly? It works.)
But to impose the values of some onto the rest of us, to limit art so that no one has to see or hear anything that might upset him or her, is wrong.
Let’s hear it for the off switch, crappy TV, and people who are willing to stand up for it.
Posted by Amanda Toering
November 30, 2005 @ 6:07 pm
Filed under: FCC
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens has failed to pass during this Congressional session legislation that would increase indecency fines. After conservative activists crowed that this session would be the one in which fines were hiked by up to ten times, Stevens acknowledged yesterday that the legislation lacked sufficient support.
From the National Journal:
“Some folks think [the bill] is too weak, and some folks think it is too strong,” Stevens said of the bill sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. “We don’t have 60 votes to move the bill” in either direction, he added — referring to the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster on the Senate floor.
Stevens said he wanted the industry and family groups to meet again Dec. 12 [after November 29th’s “Open Forum”] and seek agreement on a consensus rating system that would apply to broadcasters and cable programmers. Stevens also noted that his committee will hold a Jan. 19 hearing on indecency.
But Kyle McSlarrow, chief executive officer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said: “Any government mandate, in our view, is very clearly a violation of the First Amendment under the Constitution. We should take very seriously the notion that we should be careful in intruding on what we deliver, and how.”
Stevens said Tuesday’s forum was an attempt to bridge some of the differences about indecency and creating ties of family programming, and to promote alternative television-viewing options. “Kyle is right. Passing a bill [that applied indecency to cable] is going to be declared unconstitutional. That doesn’t get us anywhere,” Stevens said. “We have to find some middle ground here.”
Billboard Radio Monitor reports that the FCC will likely report on pending television indecency complaints by December 9th, the day that commissioner Kathleen Abernathy is scheduled to step down. (For the record, various sources have been promising that the rulings would take place “in upcoming weeks” for several months now.)
The rulings may make the agency’s nebulous criteria clearer.
According the timetable of an FCC source, [television complaints] would need to be voted on by, or before, Friday, Dec. 9, Abernathy’s last day as a commissioner. This same source said a package of radio-related NALs won’t be released until early 2006.
The timing is such that it would also give FCC chairman Martin a chance to show progress on the indecency front by issuing a set of indecency decisions within calendar year 2005. After a record-setting number of fines issued in 2004, the FCC hasn’t written a single NAL for indecency this year.
Another source, a communications attorney and a former staffer at the FCC, suggested that both packages would make interesting reading “if they [the commissioners and staff] give any guidance.” This source suggested that the creation of these two packages, if they do include more than a few NALs, also would be a relatively unique set of items handed down by the FCC. The only other example of a set of NALs being handled by the FCC as one package was in January 2005, involving complaints lodged by the Parents Television Council.
“The easiest way to do a package like this,” said the source, “is to take, say, five NALs that are indecent and say ‘These are indecent and here’s why,’ and to take another five NALs that are not indecent and say so. The harder thing is to take five NALs that are at the margin and say ‘These are at the margin and here’s why they’re indecent,’ and then to take another five, that are also at the margin, but aren’t indecent and to explain why.”
As Chris Zammarelli told you earlier, some strange music has been emanating from FCC songbird (and Chairman) Kevin Martin.
Chris pointed to a report of a report stating that Kevin Martin had come out in favor of “a la carte” cable” programming. (It’s not the first time Martin has pushed for a la carte — he’s been doing it since his days as former Chair Michael Powell’s mild-mannered nemesis.)
Martin’s most recent push for a la carte programming came during an “open forum” on indecency sponsored by Ted Stevens, head of the Senate Commerce Committee — that is, the one with jurisdiction over FCC regulations.
The indecency forum was concocted by Stevens ostensibly to allow disparate voices to speak out on pending legislation that would increase indecency fines ten-fold, along with other aspects of the indecency debate. Some watchdogs, however, feel that the forum was nothing more than an attempt to lure the cable industry to the bargaining table and to publicly hog-tie them. That is, in fact, pretty much what happened.
Broadcasting & Cable reports that the meeting turned into a showdown between Kevin Martin and National Cable Television Association chief Kyle McSlarrow.
At the Senate Commerce Committee’s “Open Forum on Decency” on Tuesday, Martin said that he had the FCC’s chief economist, Leslie Marx, draft an analysis that counters the commission’s previous stance that forcing cable systems to sell all programming a la carte the way-they sell pay movie networks like HBO and Showtime-would substantially increase consumers’ costs because operators and networks would have to raise prices.
Martin said that the old report prepared by the FCC Media Bureau “makes mistakes in its basic calculations” and is based on “incorrect and biased analysis.” A new report to be issued by commission staff soon shows that a la carte “could be economically feasible and in consumers’ best interest.”
In fact, Martin said, applying a la carte to the digital tier would actually lower cable and satellite bills by 2% — a finding he said was omitted from the original staff report
Martin outlined other options to regulate content, including extending broadcast indecency rules to include cable and satellite services, and mandating family friendly tiers.
McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, came out Tuesday morning clearly against a la carte, tiering or indecency regulations for cable. McSlarrow said the Supreme Court has “very clearly” ruled in the past that any restrictions of that sort would be a violation of the First Amendment.
McSlarrow seemed to take dead aim at a la carte, comparing the idea of letting consumers pick and choose their cable channels to allowing newspaper readers to subscribe only to the sports section. McSlarrow said the multitude of channels helps provide the economic base for cable to carry several children’s channels. “The cable industry invented diversity of programming,” McSlarrow said.
McSlarrow said the technology already allows subscribers to block channels they find objectionable, and that it’s easy to do. “It’s four clicks and a scroll on the remote,” he said. “It’s not a heavy lift.”
Mandating a la carte, he argued, would “end up hurting the very customers we’re trying to help.” He ended his short presentation by urging legislators “to take government mandates off the table.”
Meanwhile, the cable industry received an additional blow from one of its own: The Mouse.
A Walt Disney Corp vice-president Preston Padden went on record as saying that he saw no need for the FCC to continue use separate standards when judging the indecency of broadcast and cable/satellite programs. The Disney corp’s cable holdings (ABC Family, Lifetime, ESPN, the Disney Channel, etc.), as you might imagine, would be relatively safe from indecency fines should cable and satellite get the ball and chain. Disney also owns broadcast network ABC, home of Desperate Housewives — which indecency crusaders like the Parents Television Council love to love to hate.
So, calling for regulation of cable and satellite TV isn’t a big risk for Disney. In fact, it may help them curry favor with the Feds. But are they also going to bat for a la carte, which would effectively allow cable and satellite subscribers to opt-out of paying for Goofy programming? Not so much.
Again from B&C:
Yet Padden also argued against a la carte, claiming it would cost cable operators billions of dollars just to provide the proper set-top boxes that would enable a pick-and-choose method of cable viewing. Disney’s gambit, it appeared, was a way for Disney to come out in favor of expanding indecency regulations to cable while defending the current cable delivery system.
Disney-owned ESPN is one of cable’s most expensive channels with the cost paid for by operators; if consumers had to pay for it, the reasoning goes, not enough fans would pay for Disney to continue to pay to show major league sports.
In the end, it all came back to the threat of increased indecency fines.
“As we approach 2006, we ought to look at getting a bill that will deal with this subject,” said Co-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Congress is actually considering four bills that would toughen rules against the transmission of indecent content. “This is just a statement of fact,” said Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). “We’re going to do something this time.”
Passing laws limiting speech is tough, many noted. Stevens, acknowledging that, said if courts overturned new indecency legislation, it “would be a great disappointment to the American family.”
Um…. And a great relief to the American Constitution, no?
Anyway, no story on indecency would be complete without the blathering of Parents Television Council president Brent Bozell. Yep, he was at the meeting too. Here’s what he had to say:
Some argued that the rating systems and v-chips don’t address the main issue of the content itself. “No one’s addressing the pothole,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.
I hereby address the pothole: Bozell, stay out of my living room and concentrate on your own. Thankyouverymuch.
The Canadian Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium. The bookstore had requested government subsidies to fund its fight with Canadian Customs over gay- and BSDM-themed materials seized on the basis of obscenity. The request was previously denied.
Little Sisters co-owner Jim Deva said that it was impossible for the store to pay the $500K to $1m that it would cost to challenge Customs in court.
A moderate FCC Commissioner is leaving.
Kathleen Q. Abernathy wasn’t a big supporter of FCC indecency fines, according to the WFMU blog. She’s leaving December 9, 2005.
Will her replacement be someone eager to levy massive fines against broadcasters, for content some people find offensive?
Will the FCC ever produce a clear definition of indecency, and let broadcasters know what not to say?
Stay tuned to SpeakSpeak News.
« Update Evening of November 18, 2005 »
Then again, maybe Kathleen Abernathy isn’t such a wonderful woman to have at the FCC, anyway. This previous SpeakSpeak article quotes her advocating heavier indecency fines.