Bonneville's Bruce Reese, Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters Joint Board, told the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday that there were four key things to keep in mind as they consider legislation toughening FCC indecency enforcement.
While Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said at a Nov. 29 indecency hearing that he hoped voluntary industry efforts would obviate the need for any kind of legislation, he said Thursday that the goal was to come to some consensus and move a bill "as quickly as possible."
On the issue of a bill before the committee to mandate à la carte cable pricing as a way to help parents control cable content, Stevens said the committee ought to wait until the FCC releases a revamped study on à la carte pricing, which FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says will show that it is viable, unlike an earlier study released under Chairman Michael Powell.
He also said Congress should give cable's family-friendly tier initiative a chance to work first.
Reese's key "thinking points" on the indecency issue were:
1) The vast majority of broadcasters, he said, have never been cited for indecency by the FCC, including no citations in all of 2005. Broadcasters, he said, generally err on the side of caution, programming to community tastes and standards.
2) Viewers draw little distinction between broadcasting and multichannel pay-video providers like cable and satellite, "yet indecency does not apply to edgier content on satellite and radio."
3) Reese warned of unintended consequences or legislation, including what he said could be the content-chilling effect of putting station license renewals in play for indecency violations, which he said was a potential death sentence that broadcasters will not run the risk of. Already, he said, some stations have edited newscasts to cut out the rough language of soldiers in Iraq.
4) The pan-media education campaign--announced Thursday at the same hearing by former MPAA President Jack Valenti--is preferable to singling out one industry with fines and greater penalties.
Before we increase fines, said Reese, it should give that education campaign a chance to work.
CBS Executive VP Martin Franks said that the fine boost would not help much. He said that there is plenty of programming that isn't indecent but might not be appropriate for children. The education campaign and blocking mechanisms address that issue, while the fine boost does not, he said.
Franks suggested that those looking for an answer in more family-friendly programming might take a lesson from CBS. He pointed out that his company in the mid to late 1990s offered a "wonderful" family-friendly programming block at 8-9 p.m.--Touched By An Angel, Bill Cosby, Promised Land--and got "killed" in the marketplace. Advertisers and viewers made other choices, he said. They voted with their remotes for edgier fare.
He said he would be happy to go back to a three-network world where family fare would not face the competition it does now, but that is not realistic.