Balking at talking

Media groups ask for stay of video descriptions

The TV and movie industries are asking the FCC to stay the April 1 launch of voiced descriptions of on-screen action intended to help the blind.

The NAB, NCTA and the Motion Picture Association of America have challenged the rules in court and last week said TV stations, cable systems and programming networks should not be required to buy equipment to comply with rules that stand a "substantial likelihood" of being struck down. Oral argument in that case is Sept. 6.

The American Council of the Blind "categorically condemned" the industries' motion for delay. "Instead of doing the right thing, the trade associations have acted entirely irresponsibly."

The media groups argued in their filing that the FCC did not have congressional authority to impose video-description rules, only a mandate from lawmakers to study the issue and report back. They also argued there were First Amendment implications in compelling "creative" speech. In the motion for stay, the groups pointed out that current FCC Chairman Michael Powell voted against the rules for that very reason when he was still a commissioner.

Despite that vote, Powell is expected to direct FCC attorneys to defend them in court because, as chairman, it is his job to defend standing FCC rules.

Rules that were issued in 2000 required Big Four affiliates in the top 25 markets to provide at least 50 hours per quarter of described prime time or children's programming. Cable and satellite systems with 50,000 or more subs must do the same for each top-five national non-broadcast network they carry.