Smut Self-Regulation Not Enough

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Regardless of whether broadcasters do more to police the airwaves themselves, Washington is sure to toughen anti-indecency restrictions, two lawmakers and a top Federal Communications Commission official told the National Association of Broadcasters Wednesday.

"Things had been steadily declining downhill and then you get the galvanizing event of Janet Jackson and the Super Bowl. This thing is moving," Sen. Sam Brownback said of his bill to hike fines for indecency violations and make performers liable in addition to station owners.

Brownback made his comments to reporters after a closed-door speech to NAB's summit on responsible programming.

The Kansas Republican praised broadcasters and cable operators for doing more to explain the V-Chip and other channel-blocking techniques to parents, but said those steps aren't enough. "Rather than warn people the river is polluted why not just take the pollution out," he said. Brownback predicted the Senate would vote on the bill after Congress returns from spring recess April 19.

He predicted the Senate would keep a provision blocking media ownership deregulation despite opposition in the House and thought some senators would fight to add cable and satellite programming under the same indecency rules as broadcasters.

He sympathized with that idea, but predicted that move would cause legal problems that would damage the bill's prospects. "The Supreme Court has ruled on this." Brownback reiterated his call for reviving an industry code of conduct. NAB officials say no decision on bringing back the code will be made at today's summit.

During their meeting with NAB members, Brownback and Michigan Democratic Representative Bart Stupak said broadcasters placed much of the blame for raunchy programming on broadcast networks and large conglomerates--a complaint they used to make the case for strengthening TV affiliates' right to reject network programming.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told the crowd that better policing is the right thing to do, but won't make Washington back off. "The proof is in the pudding," he told reporters. "Not 350 people attending a summit or putting together a taskforce, but what is put on the airwaves and whether broadcasters do anything to clean them up."    

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