Over the Pledge?

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The indecency crackdown is here to stay, but noncommercial stations' mandatory tin-cup timeout during pledge drives could become a thing of the analog past.

That's according to Association of Public Television Stations President John Lawson in an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators series.

Lawson told C-SPAN's Susan Swain that noncoms have recently been discussing a way to bypass pledge breaks in the digital age.

"One model that a lot of us have talked about, " he said, "is that if you are a passive viewer of public TV, you are going to receive everything anyone else receives, including the pledge drive. But with digital you could actually put a code in the receiver where if you've already contributed to the stations,  you don't have to endure the pledge drive. You get the programming that someone else might have to wait a bit to see."

As for the FCC's heightened scrutiny of language, Lawson said it is here to stay. He also said his group shares the FCC's concern about the airwaves, and suggested that the problem was that the commission was not distinguishing between ratings-driven content on commercial airwaves and noncommercial fare.

"We hope the FCC will make a distinction between content that is designed to sensationalize, or titillate or drive ratings," he told Swain, "and content that's about the way real people live and express themselves, particularly in a  war. We're arguing for some reasonableness and some definition about what's permissible and what's not."

Specifically, he was talking about Ken Burns' latest documentary, which Lawson advertises as the definitive history of World War II. "It's hard to tell that story accurately without the expressions that those soldiers used in combat situations. How do we be true to that story and not expose our stations to these fines that, literally, could put some of the smaller ones out of business."

Calling indecency a major concern, Lawson said noncoms were "trying to figure out why it is OK for the FCC to approve the use of certain words in a big, Hollywood production like Saving Private Ryan when its scripted actors [whose profanity the FCC said was not indecent in context], whereas we do a reality documentary about the blues and one of our stations carries an episode with some language and they fined them for it. This is a station that has no children’s programming, and there was only one complaint."

Lawson had no complaint about Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison, however. "We're encouraged. Pat Harrison has turned out to be an excellent CEO and her board has instituted some real reforms," Says Lawson, but adds, "Our motto with CPB is 'eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.' We will continue to watch them carefully."

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