Family Choice makes return engagement


Do you remember the Family Choice Act of 2006? Then you'll be reasonably familiar with the Family Choice Act of 2007. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was and is a sponsor, but has replaced last year's Nebraska Republican co-sponsor: Tom Osborne (R-NE), with another: Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). He's also picked up co-sponsors Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL).

The thrust of the bill is to force the cable industry to choose one of three paths toward protecting children from indecent or violent programming. A system could either provide a la carte channel menus, provide a family-friendly program tier or agree to abide by the same indecency regs which apply to over-the-air broadcasters.
The bill never made it out of committee last year, but Lipinski thinks that momentum for such a bill is increasing as people are "…becoming more and more upset by what they are seeing on TV."

A la carte champion and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin attended a press conference where the bill was unveiled. He said, "While it may surprise some, I actually agree with many critics of the FCC that parents – not the government – should be the first and last line of defense. Parents are best able to determine what programming their children should be exposed to. But that means that parents must have meaningful choices and that their choices must have meaningful consequences. If a family must continue to pay for programming even when they object to it, there is little or no incentive for programmers to respond. Instead there should be marketplace implications for programmers when consumers don't want a channel." He added that the recent Second Circuit derailing of the FCC's fleeting expletive ruling made this more crucial than ever.

SmartMedia observation: Last summer a wide variety of cable and satellite operators committed to offering family tiers. However, any channel that carries live programming or adjusts its programming at night when most children are in bed was essentially disqualified from the list. Must-have channels like CNN, Fox News and ESPN were ruled out. We've even seen complaints about some of the programming on ABC Family. In short, adults still make up the vast bulk of the audience, not small children, to the extent that a family tier isn't really commercially viable. And since this bill, if it ever gets anywhere, is just going down on the horns of the First Amendment anyway, wouldn't it be smarter to expend our legislative and regulatory energy on teaching parents to use the V-Chip and channel blocking technology and leave content regulation alone?