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Santorum BacksMedia Content Critics - Broadcasting & Cable

Santorum BacksMedia Content Critics

Candidate supports crackdown by coalition; says Justice would have charter to go after obscenity
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If social conservative Rick Santorum makes it to the White House, he could usher in a new focus on TV and Internet content. Santorum has gone from back-ofthe- pack to a serious contender in what is shaping up to be a two-man GOP race going into Super Tuesday, March 6. That makes what Santorum thinks about content on TV and the Internet worth the time of all content providers.

Santorum has, for instance, given his full-throated support to the War on Illegal Pornography Coalition, a group that has criticized TV networks for content it argued was inappropriate for kids. According to numerous reports, the coalition was among the groups hammering NBC last fall over The Playboy Club, equating it with primetime pornography. The WIPC includes longtime TV content critics Morality in Media and the American Family Association (formerly the National Federation of Decency).

“I proudly support the efforts of the War on Illegal Pornography Coalition that has tirelessly fought to get federal obscenity laws enforced,” Santorum says on his Website.

Under a Santorum presidency, the media could expect heightened scrutiny from the Justice Department. And he has pledged to pick an attorney general who will crack down on content as well. While Santorum notes that there are laws against distributing obscenity on cable and satellite TV and the Internet, he says that the Obama administration has refused to enforce those laws, the suggestion being that some of the sexual-related content being distributed is not just indecent (which is protected speech on cable and satellite) but obscene.

Andrew J. Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, which has represented TV and film producers in opposing Federal Communications Commission content crackdowns, warns that, broadly speaking, a socially conservative candidate like Santorum is likely to give broadcast and cable operators a harder time, at least rhetorically, though he says it is often hard to translate rhetoric into effective action.

According to one veteran attorney who has also faced off with the government over content calls, the industry would need to be worried for several reasons if Santorum became president. “One, the White House and the commission have a working relationship. So, the [FCC] chairman can take direction directly from the White House. The other is that the commission and the Justice Department could work together,” as they have on merger reviews. “Third, Justice can just go off on its own, or pass new legislation giving it whatever power it wants,” adds the attorney, who cited the Patriot Act as an example.

And if candidate Santorum followed through on his campaign pledge to hire an attorney general who would crack down on content? “Justice and the commission have a memorandum of understanding and overlapping jurisdictions,” the attorney notes. “The commission can refer things over to Justice and hand it off to them.”

He adds that one additional variable should also not be forgotten: the political one. “The reason I would be concerned is that when policies of this sort bubble up from political hotbeds, they tend to be the worst sort of ill-considered policy.”

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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