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Committed to the First Amendment
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A Case of Indecent Overexposure

The media-ownership debate, a new face on the FCC and the lure of the campaign trail have conspired to create renewed, and troubling, interest in content regulation of the media. Well, there is one more factor: the media's willingness to wallow to make a buck. But then again, our slops may be another's sirloin.

Last week, Democrat Jonathan Adelstein joined Michael Copps in calling for greater indecency vigilance on the part of the FCC, preaching to a choir of Commerce Committee legislators. Adelstein, the newest commissioner, sounded as though he was preparing to assume Susan Ness's mantle as the V-Chip commissioner (bad choice). Michael Copps, for his part, had already decried such "indecent" programming as the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. Last week, he looked to tie the "rising tide of indecency" to media consolidation. Even more troubling, Republican Kevin Martin appeared to second the complaint.

But last week's principal theme appeared to be violence, with indecency critics pushing to extend the definition and Joe Lieberman, back on the campaign trail, taking his all-too-familiar swings at the media. He has been at it so long he has had to change the preamble of his tirades from "as a parent" to "as a grandparent." Ernest Hollings, who wants to channel violent programming as the FCC channels indecency, took yet another swing at adding violence to the definition of indecency.

The problem with all these efforts is not that there isn't some real swill on the air. Frankly, we have often thought that, if given our choice of material to circumscribe, violence makes far more sense than sex. But, of course, we do have our choice of material to avoid. We set our own indecency standards every day with our remote controls. As readers of this page are well aware, we don't believe the government should be censoring the media.

Neither the FCC nor the Congress can be trusted to decide what we see and hear and when. We need no more evidence of this than the FCC's decision to treat innuendo as indecent or its failure to distinguish between patently offensive material and socially relevant poetry in the Sarah Jones case. The perceived harm to children occasionally stumbling on to what people really look like, do and say is far outweighed by the injury done to the First Amendment by government content regulation undertaken in their name.

Tech-ing the Initiative

Broadcasters have taken a big step toward controlling their own destiny. The NAB has committed $6 million over three years to get a broadcast lab up and humming (contingent on consumer-electronics types' stepping up to the plate as well). There is plenty of credit to go around for the decision, but MSTV's Gary Chapman and David Donovan and NAB's Eddie Fritts deserve places at the front of the line. When the lab opens, job one will be to work the kinks out of DTV reception, but the opening will have a broader significance: Broadcasters will be telling the world that the medium is here to stay, that they will maintain their direct over-the-air connection to the public and that those wireless-phone folks had best look elsewhere for their next hunk of spectrum.

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