Commerce Chairs Cheer Content Campaign

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The heads of the major industry associations appeared together before the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday to pitch their new content-control PSA campaign in cooperation with The Ad Council and received a benediction and a "go forth" from the committee chairmen.

The campaign is intended to let parents know they already have the tools to block unwanted programming, as well as to encourage them to do so. It is also intended to head off further government content control regulation being threatened by legislators concerned about TV content.

It came partly in response to a commerce committee roundtable on "decency" last fall in which the major players, programmers and their chief critics, discussed the issue, with the industry promising to come up with a collective effort.

Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) kicked off the briefing by saying the campaign has "great merit." Both he and co-chairman Daniel Inouye praised it, with Stevens saying: "I hope it will succeed because we have the demands from some people to legislate. and it's awfully difficult to define decency, and more than that find the constitutional powers to do it."
The industry executive lineup included David Rehr of NAB,  Kyle McSlarrow of NCTA, Dan Glickman of MPAA, Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association, and Peggy Conlon of The Ad Council, which is coordinating the donated PSA creative and industry ad time--some $300 million worth in all. Their message: Parents should do the regulating, with industry's help to show them how, and encouragement to do so.

Conlon told the committee that she knew it will take more than a catchy slogan to change habits, but she pointed to the informational power of a "robust" Web site--thetvboss.org--site and of the combined TV platforms committed to the education effort. 

Valenti said the campaign, which was actually unveiled Tuesday to the press, is intended to tell parents they are the TV boss. "They have the power to control every hour of entertainment programming," he said.

PSAs started running in prime time this week on broadcast, cable and satellite, and will continue for 18 months. They humorously remind parents that some of their shows aren't child-friendly fare and steer them to thetvboss.com, which provides information on program blocking, ratings and strategies for setting family media planning guidelines.

Valenti said he could make no promises about the campaign's success, but that it would not be for lack of trying. "We can't command people to do what's best for their children," he said, then, interestingly, invoked a curse to illustrate his content-control point. His former boss President Lyndon used to say you can tell somebody to go to hell, but getting him to go there is another proposition, said Valenti.

Valenti emphasized that the place to build "a moral shield" is at home, school, or house of worship,. something "the government can't, and shouldn't do," he insisted.

Valenti said a kit with explanatory materials would be supplied to every member of Congress when they return from the August recess, so they can put the information on their own web sites--Glickman's idea, said Valenti.  has already given kits to FCC members.

"I can't remember such a coordinated campaign," said Stevens, thanking all the participants. The campaign came in response to a November commerce committee roundtable on decency, itself a response for increasing pressure from anti-indecency activists and concerned legislators on TV programming.

Inouye said he would advise every member that the information would be put on their Web site. "That's the least we can do. I am sure it will be a success."

Stevens said he would make a Senate floor statement to make sure they knew the kits should be used to inform their constituents. Stevens also said he would call a hearing after nine months to check on the process of the campaign.

Key anti-indecency activists were not sanguine about the campaign, however.

Parents Television Council suggests it is much of the same--NCTA announced its own multimillion-dollar content- control information campaign last year--which is more talk and still no action. PTC, having helped boost indecency fines on broadcasters and pushed tougher profanity enforcement policies at the FCC,  wants cable to offer a la carte programming as the other "must-have" element of parental choice. "They still don't get it," said PTC's Dan Isett of the campaign.

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