Legislators Look To Help FCC Chairman Decide What's On Cable
from the somebody-think-of-the-children dept
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has made it a priority of his reign to try and crack down on “indecent” TV programming, and now a couple of Congressmen have been happy to oblige him by introducing legislation that would force cable and satellite providers to choose one of three courses of Martin-sanctioned action. The legislators say that while it’s parents’ responsibility to determine what their kids watch, “clearly they need more help”. It’s not clear exactly what they mean by that; perhaps there’s some rash of TV on/off switches not working, or cable companies are coming around to people’s houses, holding guns to their heads and forcing them to subscribe, or if the congressmen simply think they know better than parents do what’s good for their children. The bill, as usual for this sort of thing, raises plenty of questions. It would force pay-TV providers to choose one of three plans, but each of them has its own foibles.
The first option is to use the same rules that govern free-to-air TV — that is, no offensive content between 6am and 10pm. The problem here is that it’s hard to see how cable providers are expected to govern the content of other companies’ channels, which they only distribute. Not to mention this is an end run around the limitations on the powers of the FCC, which only cover over-the-air channels. The second choice is for companies to expand “family tiers” (which Martin essentially twisted their arms into offering) “to include all the channels in the expanded basic tier minus those that broadcast inappropriate programming for children”. These are the tiers that Martin first said weren’t bland enough, then later said were too boring. Apart from the waffling, the problem here is the “inappropriate programming” part. Who decides what’s inappropriate for each family? Clearly Martin isn’t happy with the cable companies’ definition, but this sort of vague definition tends to cause legal problems. The final option is for cable and TV providers to offer a la carte programming — if somebody wants to “block” a channel from entering their home, cable providers would have to do so, and then not charge them for it. This underlines the fact that Martin’s interest in a la carte has nothing to do with saving consumers money and everything with his socially conservative politics. The fact remains that cable and satellite television is a service consumers choose to pay for and bring in to their home, and should they decide to do so, plenty of solutions already exist for parents who wish to control what their kids watch. Martin and some legislators simply believe they’re better suited than parents, or anyone else for that matter, to decide what’s acceptable to watch.