As the movement in Washington to crack down on indecency on TV and radio grows, industry executives said they are working diligently to handle the issue in-house by policing their own airwaves.
"We are saying to the government, 'Let us have a crack at this and see if we can self-regulate," LIN Television Chairman Gary Chapman said Tuesday during a National Association of Broadcasters convention panel in Las Vegas. "We'd rather be self-regulated than government regulated," he said.
A number of broadcasters have settled their indecency complaints at the FCC with monetary fines and promises of indecency intolerance.
Chapman serves on a task force of industry executives organized last year after the NAB's summit on responsible programming to try to confront the heat from the Hill on content. The group will present its report and recommendations this summer.
Areas of focus include better audience communication on safeguards like the V-Chip and ratings system. Radio and TV stations will also share their "best practices" for training staff and trying to prevent FCC violations.
What we aren't focusing on yet is inappropriate and indecent content is still protected content," said Hearst-Argyle Television CEO David Barrett. "We have to be very careful not to let our government start making content decisions," though that horse has arguably already left the barn.
Chapman and Susquehanna Media Co's David Kennedy outlined the task force's objectives in front of a packed house of local radio and TV industry types. Kennedy said he didn't think the efforts would head off government action, but that at least it shows, "We are trying to marshal our forces and demonstrate to the Hill and constituencies that we can self-regulate and we do take this seriously."
One bit of self-regulation broadcasters are not sanguine on is a family viewing hour.
There has been talk of reviving the so-called family hour (8-9), but execs familiar with the plan say that it is unlikely that NAB will recommend that stations institute a prime time family viewing period, though it is something that new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has suggested broadcasters institute voluntarily.
Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra is heading up the task force's V-Chip efforts. Somewhat ironically, Fox was identified in a Parent's Television Council Study as the network with the least V-chip-friendly ratings, though Fox challenged that, and Vinciquerra is no fan of PTC (see below).
Fox and its affiliates are being fined more than $1 million for risque reality show Married by America. Vinciquerra made no excuses for the show, saying, "It was not our finest moment of television and it was a mistake." But, he said, the network did not get a single complaint from viewers.
All 180 complaints were lodged by the Parents Television Council, which Vinciquerra says operates a "sweat shop" in Virginia where staffers monitor TV shows and say, "Oh, that is risque."
As to whether indecency standards should be extended to cable, the executives were cautious but not dismissive of the idea.
"The majority of Americans don't make a distinction between over-the-air broadcast and cable," Chapman said. "The Sopranos can be one click away from a broadcast station."
But, he said,"Except for pay cable, there isn't much on cable that is in violation of FCC standards [the pay content crackdown is targeted primarily at basic], most that are risque run after 10 p.m.," says Vinciquerra, whose company owns cable nets including FX.
And after 10, even broadcasters could theoretically put on just as risque fare as anything currently on cable an not run afoul of existing FCC rules.
Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan dialed down the cable vs. broadcast rivalry. "I worry about any additional infringements on the First Amendment," he said.
for its part, Emmis paid $300,000 last August to settle its outstanding indecency complaints and fines and pledged a "zero tolerance" policy on indecency.