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Wide open "Open Forum on Decency"

A lot of ideas were put forth yesterday at the special session of the Seante Commerce Committee put together by Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK). While it can probably be said that all in attendance believe that it is important to protect children from objectionable material, that is pretty much where the consensus ended. Ratings, v-chips, channel blocking tools, channel tier and menus and legislative remedies all were voiced. Legislative intervention was alternately called for and warned against. Below is a brief summation of the testimony from most of the panelists, other than those of senators and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and NAB Joint Board Chairman Bruce Reese of Bonneville, noted in the articles above.

Comments on decency

* Jack Valenti, Motion Picture Association of America: Addressed violent programming, saying studies finding it harmful are mostly subjective, not scientific. Asked how it could be that violent programming is up, but actual crimes of physical violence are down. Said MPAA ratings are effective because they are simple, and because they are voluntary - - the latter being responsible for multiple successful court defenses of the system.

* Brent Bozell, President, Parents Television Council: "I have to confess to a sense of we go again." Bozell noted that he's done this numerous times, with essentially the same cast of characters, everyone agrees there's a problem, then nothing happens. The House has spoken, but the Senate and White House seem to be dropping the ball. He says the v-chip is a sham because the ratings activating it are flawed.

* Kyle McSlarrow, President/CEO, NCTA: He said mandatory imposition of menu regimens on cable would be unconstitutional, and likened al a carte to forcing newspapers to sell an issue with a sports section, but no business section, if a reader demanded. He said channel bundling is necessary to provide diverse choice.

* Roberta Combs, President, Christian Coalition of America: Liked TV of the 50s ("Ozzie and Harriet," "Howdy Doody"), hates today's fare which children cannot watch unsupervised. Called for bigger fines. Also called for digital multicast must-carry to promote local religious, family and independent television channels.

* Ed Merlis, SVP, United States Telephone Association: His industry is licking its chops, getting ready to enter video delivery business. He said it would include specialized, easy-to-use parental controls as a competitive edge against its entrenched competitors.

* Jessica Marventano, SVP, Clear Channel Communications: Noted measure CCU has put in place to control air talent. Also said the company supports increased fines, although it doesn't like paying them and would not consider bigger ones a cost of doint business. However, the group strongly objects to "draconian" license revocation possibilities of a single on-air slip-up. Also called for level decency playing field between broadcast and satellite program services.

* Matt Polka, President/CEO, American Cable Association: Representing small cable operators who do not own programming, said many of his constituents would be happy to provide family friendly tiers, or keep certain channels off their systems entirely, but are forced to take channels they don't want to get channels they need to programming conglomerates. Said he'd like to be able to offer a "contemporary adult tier" where appropriate, packaging MTV, Comedy Central and other racier channels together, where parents can turn them down in a block if they so desire.

* Joey Pantoliano, Co-President, The Creative Coalition: Said empowering parents was essential, and content regulation should be avoided at all costs. First witness to mentioned "Saving Private Ryan" decency quandry - - said parents, not government, should make the decision whether children see it or not. He called for " expression without fear of government retailiation."

* Dan Fawcett, EVP, Business and Legal Affairs, DIRECTV: Touted his company's "Locks & Limits" channel blocker, already available to all subs.

* David Moskowitz, EVP and General Counsel, Echostar Satellite: Echoed difficulty of providing a family tier because of channel packaging from program conglomerates. Also offers channel blocking.

* Martin Franks, Executive Vice President, CBS: Cited standards, tape delay. "I am surprised so many are ready to give up on the v-chip." He said it's not perfect, but neither would be any other solution, and this one is already widely in place. Noted that the last time CBS tried to be entirely family friendly in early evening, it got killed in the ratings - - another call for a level decency playing field.

* Preston Padden, EVP, Worldwide Government Affairs, ABC/Disney: Said there is no longer a constitutionally valid basis to distinguish between broadcast TV and basic cable in terms of indecency. Also argued that al a carte was a bad idea because it both increases overhead will decreasing revenue, and could therefore produce an anti-consumer result.

* Lee Bartlett, Executive Vice President, Fox/News Corp.: Noted that his network is working with Kaiser Family Institute to try and work positive health messages into story lines. Said government must stay out of content decisions, but make sure parents have adequate tools to make decisions about what their kids watch.

* Alan Wurtzel, President, Research and Media Development, NBC/GE: Said that key was not to violate viewer expectations - - guards against indecency creeping into what should be safe programming as a matter of philosophy. Wants government to stay out of content regulation, and echoes CCU concerns about license revocation possibilities being disproportionate to the crime.

* Jim Steyer, Chief Executive Officer, Common Sense Media: Said decency should be viewed through a "public health lens." Called for a sanity, not censorship approach, a search for common ground and a common sense solution.

* Bill Bailey, SVP, Regulatory and Government Affairs, XM Radio: Touted current ratings - - dangerous material is labeled on each receiver display, and improved channel blocking will soon be available at the company's website.

* Jim Dyke, Executive Director, TV Watch: Sure, 80% of adult Americans see things on TV that they don't like. But 92% want to make their own content decisions. Argues that claims of public outrage are overblown, and that blocking tools are ubiquitous and easy to use. Most parents, he argued, already use blockers, watch with their kids or otherwise control their viewing.

* Tom Carpenter, AFTRA: Mainly objected to fines against performers, most of whom are not rich and do not have a public interest requirement.

* Lisa Fager, Industry Ears: Attacked radio, not so much because of Howard Stern - - who targets adults, but because of youth-directed formats like CHR and Urban, which she said rely on adult themed entertainment or audio pornography. Said indecency in Hip Hop is rampant, and made no bones about her solution - - revoke licenses. Said the FCC has done a poor job educating consumers on how to file an indecency complaint, and that its website is not user friendly.

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