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Republicans urge satellite, cable indecency rules

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Indecency guidelines that over-the-air broadcasters must follow should be extended to cover cable and satellite broadcasters, congressional Republicans who are influential on telecommunications issues said yesterday.

Most viewers don't differentiate between traditional TV and cable so they don't know when they might be exposed to objectionable programming, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, head of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington. His view mirrors that of the NAB, which supports extending indecency rules to all television programming.

"In this country, there [have] to be some standards of decency," said Stevens, who said he would push for such legislation.

However, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group, said people choose to pay for channels and, as part of their subscription, are able to block programming they don't want seen in their homes. Because of that, the group said, any legislation would face an uphill battle in court.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, voiced support for the idea of indecency guidelines for cable and satellite and said he would consult with Stevens on possible legislation.

"It's not fair to subject over-the-air broadcasters to one set of rules and subject cable and satellite to no rules," Barton told reporters after a separate appearance before the broadcasters group.

The House last month overwhelmingly passed a bill to raise the maximum indecency fine from $32,500 to $500,000. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate but has not had a hearing.

Federal law bars nonsatellite radio stations and noncable television channels from airing certain references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely be tuning in.

The Federal Communications Commission has no power to regulate cable and satellite stations, which do not use public airwaves and are subscriber-paid. Cable and satellite stations are available to about 85% of the roughly 108 million U.S. households with televisions.

In December, the FCC rejected a request from a radio station owner that the FCC begin imposing broadcast-indecency regulations to subscription satellite services.

Last year, FCC Chairman Michael Powell told the broadcasters group that he did not "generally support the extension of content rules to cable and satellite unless Congress supports a statement asking us to do so."

The broadcasters association, which represents free, over-the-air radio and TV stations, has been critical of the lack of indecency guidelines for cable and satellite stations.

"If a 5-year-old uses the clicker ... he can't differentiate between the over-the-air signals and a cable signal," said Edward Fritts, the association's president.

The cable group pointed to a 2000 Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, that said Congress violated free-speech rights when it sought to protect children from sexually oriented cable channels like Playboy Television.

The anti-smut law, enacted by Congress in 1996, had required cable systems to restrict sex-oriented networks to overnight hours if they did not fully scramble their signals for nonsubscribers.

Cable companies have instituted a public-service campaign in the last two years to educate customers about channel-blocking tools, said Brian Dietz, a vice president for the cable group.


FCC refuses to censor satellite radio

California broadcaster had asked agency to force subscription services to abide by indecency rules similar to those governing stations that use public airwaves. 12.16.04

House again votes to hike indecency fines
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approve bill 389-38, rejecting criticism that stiffer penalties would stifle free speech, expression and further homogenize programming. 02.17.05

Broadcasters vow to draft voluntary decency code
But industry officials say they doubt guidelines will dissuade lawmakers from crafting measures to tackle indecency, say they're ready to challenge any such law on First Amendment grounds. 04.21.05

Battling TV indecency is latest rage; is censorship next?
Public may be looking for more choices — that would include cleaner fare — rather than more regulation. 04.28.05

FCC chief to cable, satellite TV: Clean up your act or else
If industry doesn't find way to police smut, decency standards should be considered, chairman tells Congress. 11.30.05

Cable industry to offer more family-friendly options
Under pressure from government, nation's two largest cable companies, several others announce plan to offer 'family choice' packages of channels. 12.12.05

Senators slam family-friendly TV plans for omitting sports channels
'It almost seems like an invitation to an unmarketable package,' Sen. Frank Lautenberg tells cable, satellite executives at Commerce Committee hearing on indecency. 01.21.06

Indecency regulation: beyond broadcast?
By David L. Hudson Jr. Currently FCC can't restrict indecent content on cable or satellite services — but some would like to change that. 12.05.07

A government thumb on the remote control
By Paul K. McMasters Do you really want the feds telling you what you can and cannot hear or watch on the airwaves? 08.29.04

Surrendering our choices to a sense of decency
By Paul K. McMasters Parents have a wide range of tools to keep indecent programming out of their homes if they wish — but some people seem bound to restrict our choices to their tastes. 04.10.05


The Indecency Battles

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