Martin wants to revive family hour

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New Orleans -- Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin
Tuesday called on the broadcast networks to bring back the family-viewing hour.

"Devote the first hour
of prime time to programs that parents and children
can enjoy together," Martin said at the National Association of Television Programming Executives' panel
session on family-friendly programming here.

"Give parents one hour, five days a week, when they can turn to broadcast
television with comfort, confidence and enthusiasm."

The original family-viewing hour was part of the National Association of
Broadcasters Code, which was shot down by the courts after it was challenged on
antitrust grounds in 1983.

"High-quality family-friendly programming is produced," Martin said, citing
ABC and Pax TV. All broadcasters "need to embrace it."

"It's a serious proposal meriting serious consideration," said fellow
commissioner and fellow panelist Michael Copps after the session. "It would be a
wonderful thing for the industry to move on it without the heavy hand of
government getting into the act."

Copps wants broadcasters to revive the entire code of conduct, but his
repeated appeals have failed to stir broadcasters.

Martin also said cable and satellite-TV operators should make themselves more
family-friendly.

They could offer tiers comprising only family-friendly programming, Martin
said. "Such a package might include ABC Family, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon,
Discovery [Channel], [The] History Channel, National Geographic [Channel], CNN [Cable News Network], Fox News [Channel], Food Network,
ESPN, C-SPAN, to name a few."

"Alternately, cable and DBS [direct-broadcast satellite] operators could offer programming in a more à la
carte fashion," Martin said. "They would permit parents to request not to
receive certain programming that is part of a package, and they could reimburse
the parents for that programming. Parents could then purchase additional
channels on an individual basis. The combined result would enable parents to
receive [and pay for] only that programming they are comfortable bringing into
their home."

TV teems with "more choices and excellent content," Martin said. "The viewing
picture nevertheless leaves much to be desired by parents seeking
family-friendly programming."

During the session, Copps said the concern about excessive violence and
indecency in programming is one more reason why the FCC should move slowly in
relaxing ownership restrictions that would lead to more stations in fewer
hands.

With consolidation comes more stations controlled
by "mega-programmers" and youth-obsessed advertisers far away from the communities that the stations
are supposed to serve.

"What do you think will trump," Copps asked, "their interest or the public
interest?"

Copps said he does not know what impact further media consolidation will have
on the amount of indecency and violence in programming or the availability of
family-friendly programming. But before the FCC votes on new rules this spring,
he added, "we ought to know a lot more about this connection than we do."

Copps said the FCC is
not interested in regulating content or even defining what family-friendly programming
is.

But through its ownership rules, he added, it can create an environment where
diversity and family-friendly programming can flourish.

For the sake of diversity, Copps said, the FCC should also give "serious
consideration" to a proposal that it mandate that the broadcast networks
set aside 25 percent of their prime-time schedule for programming in which they
had no financial interest.

Pushing the plan is a coalition of producers that feel that they cannot get
their programming into prime time without giving up interest in the programming
to the networks.

Copps said the proposal could be modified into a carve
out for "independently produced family-friendly programming."

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