Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"Indecency" Controls Threaten to Metastasize

Public ownership of the airwaves—the ominous dictatorial idea that forms the legal basis for the FCC—is a premise so dangerous that it will spread if it is not repudiated. As an example, witness a new attempt to use the laws against undefined "indecency" by broadcasters as a precedent to impose censorship on cable television, which has historically been shielded from government controls. After that, what's next?

"Indecency Proposal Getting Static from Cable," Sallie Hofmeister, LA Times, 4/5/05

"Historically, the cable industry has been immune to indecency regulations because it does not use the public airwaves, instead relying on private networks and requiring viewers to subscribe. Then, Janet Jackson's breast-baring incident at last year's Super Bowl unleashed a broad public outcry about explicit entertainment, prompting Congress to propose raising indecency fines on broadcasters. With cable and satellite TV now reaching 85% of all U.S. homes, the question in Washington has become why broadcasters alone should face such penalties. [Alaska Senator Ted] Stevens, the 81-year-old lawmaker, has emerged as a leading critic of cable since January, when he became chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees the broadcast industry. In March, he vowed to take on cable programmers who argue that any attempts by Congress to rein in cable would run counter to constitutional guarantees of 1st Amendment rights that have been upheld by the courts. 'We wonder why our children are sexually active at a young age,' Stevens said in a speech to the National Assn. of Broadcasters. 'The public airwaves are increasingly promoting sex…. Cable is often worse.'... Disney has infuriated the industry by supporting the move to hold cable to the same indecency standards as broadcast.... [O]ne Disney source, while acknowledging that Rose and Stevens talk frequently, said it was only fair to level the playing field now that most homes have cable. 'If a kid is sitting with a remote control that has 70 channels on the up and down buttons, how stupid is it that the indecency rules only apply to six or seven of them?' this executive said."