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.

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Comments on “Legislators Look To Help FCC Chairman Decide What's On Cable”

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Greg (user link) says:

Numbers one and two would be a disaster, but I can get behind option 3, even if Martin is offering it for the wrong reasons entirely.

You know, as much as I normally hate Martin and his incessant meddling and moral high-horsery, I like the idea of a la cart cable. If I can drop TLC and QVC, and pick up the Science Channel, I don’t care how Martin couches it.

I’m all for me having more control over my cable, but I’m staunchly against the FCC enjoying the same.

asdf says:

Re: Re:

All the niche channels would die or cost a lot. How many people really would get History channel and scifi (two of the channels I watch the most)? As much as I would like a la carte programming because I hate paying for channels I don’t want, the cable companies have a point on this one. Stupid people that watch Spike subsidize my History Channel 🙂

TheDock22 says:

And the current way doesn't work because...

I do not get this. Why does the current way not work? All televisions since the mid-90s have been equipped with the V-chip, which allows you to block channels and block content between certain times of the day. The V-chip is also very simple to setup and you can program an access code so parents can watch any station they want no problem.

The only thing the FCC would do is infringe on the rights of EVERYBODY to appeal to a few either moronic or lazy parents who are also complaining about the content on television (all of 500 of them). Last time I checked we were a democracy and the majority rules.

John (profile) says:

Three points

First point:
If cable providers offered tiered pricing, does that mean I can get rid of the six Spanish stations (Telemundo, Galavision, etc) that I don’t watch nor understand?

But, what if enough people get rid of the Science Channel (which I want) and my cable provider no longer offers it?

Second point:
What happened to TV remotes? Like the article says, do TV’s not include an on/ off switch anymore?
I’m sorry if parents are too busy (or more likely, too lazy) to monitor what their children watch, but having the government regulate it is not the answer.

What about all these commercials I’m seeing for “take control of you TV” by blocking inappropriate content, presumably by using your own judgment and the V-chip.
I guess I missed the part of the commercial that said “Take control of what your kids watch by writing to your Congressman and force your values on everyone else by having the cable providers take the show off the air.”

Third point:
As with other discussions on “appropriate content”, who says what’s “appropriate”? Some people may think the Sopranos is bad because of the nudity and violence… yet its won how-many Emmy awards?
Personally, I think shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol” contribute to the rotting of this country… so should I tell my Congressman that these shows are “inappropriate” and have them taken off the air?
Who am I to dictate what shows should and should not be seen by the rest of the country?

Then again, this whole situation could simply be more politicians trying to “do something”… even though there is no real issue to “to something” about.
But, come election time, they can say that they “took action” and “made a difference” and other fun phrases.

Ben says:

The industry regulates itself just fine, thank you

Basic cable does just fine. Yes, they push the envelope from time to time, but overall, they censor themselves because the cable networks know what the consumer wants. They will even warn you about the content ahead of time, which my 10-year old will abide by. We have taught him was is and is not acceptable, and my wife and I (gasp!) check on what he’s watching from time to time.

The pay networks know that their consumers want uncensored material and they deliver that.

The broadcast networks are still tied to the public spectrum reasoning for regulation. It’s a thin case, but it’s been that way ever since the beginning so NBD. The government can stick to regulating the public airwaves.

Greg says:

not all parents are responsible

while most people seem to be whining that parents should monitor the programs their children watch, I think we can agree many could care less what their children watch or do. I don’t think it is so unreasonable to find ways for cable tv to at least tone it down a notch when children are watching. I for one would love the a la carte option.

For the person commenting about the “take control of your tv” commercials, of course the CABLE companies want you to do that. They want everyone to be satisfied so they can hold off on options like a la carte.

BTW, of course anything on “premium” channels would be exempt from the rules anyway. So, we can still see the Sopranos any time of day the reruns come on.

Sanguine Dream says:

Not quite...

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.

I don’t think its a matter of them thinking they know better than parents. I think its a matter of looking good for the parents. Those politicians know that there are lots of parents out there that will blindly take this as an attempt to “protect the children”. Add that to the lots of non parents that will also take this for the same reason and you have a lot of potential voters. Martin is bully that wants to have his way with tv channel providers. Since Martin cannot just magically make everything his way he has to secure the backing of legislators. Legislators are always looking to cash in (literally and metaphorically) on the cause of the moment which is “thinking of the children” and what better than to stop “innapropriate” content fromm reaching the eyes and minds of children.

A match made in money grubbing heaven.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have an alternative solution:

Since apparently having parents use the V-chip that is in just about every tv or parental controls that most cable boxes include is just too much trouble for these people, the cable companies should just offer to send someone to these peoples’ house to set the parental control for them.

Send someone being paid minimum wage around to the people that need “help” setting parental controls, and that would cost the cable companies very little and should satisfy the people that don’t want the offensive stations.

Raptor85 (profile) says:

Hmm...I wonder

First off, i don’t really watch tv, but my roommates ordered directv so from time to time ill tune in to catch a new south-park or watch a futurama re-run which I’m working on my computer, tv’s off about 6 days 23 hours a week though, just nothing on that’s worth wasting my time. I did see, however, comedy central is going to run “Team America: World Police” and South Park un-censored, I think just for one night, but you gotta wonder if they got wind of this and were taking a poke at the FCC. (not at all unlike comedy central, or trey+matt). I don’t know the day or time they’ll be showing it though, and I already have a copy of the movie, but for those that haven’t seen it the theme song… well, lets just say if profanity offends you, you wont like it at all 😛

Just gotta wonder if it’s related.

Oh well, though I think this is wrong for the FCC to do, maybe it will have the nice side effect of my roommates canceling the service and spending the extra $50 a month on something more entertaining, like beer.

Raptor85 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmm...I wonder

Found the hours, (http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/epg/theGuide.jsp) looks like they’re getting away with starting it all in prime time. Starting 7pm pacific this Friday they’re playing the 6 most “offensive” south park episodes uncensored followed directly by the uncensored “Team America: World Police” at 10

if this really is a poke at the FCC, i think it’s hilarious. Of course, back on topic, how can they even have a say in cabletv? I mean, I could have sworn the FCC is only in charge of regulating public airwaves.

Fred says:

No thanks.

Send someone being paid minimum wage around to the people that need “help” setting parental controls, and that would cost the cable companies very little and should satisfy the people that don’t want the offensive stations.

Except what Martin and his pals at the American “Family” Association want is not to make it easier for parents to control what their children watch, but to keep the programming off the air in the first place:

If you don’t like something on television, why don’t you just change the channel?

Television is the most public and powerful means of mass communication. It drives changes in social customs, speech, and attitudes, especially among youth. Because of its pervasiveness and persuasiveness, opting out is an entirely inadequate response to the dramatic rise in the amount of televised graphic sex, obscene and profane language, and gratuitous violence found on television today. These depictions affect everyone, including our children’s classmates and friends. Vulgar television means a more vulgar society; sex-saturated television means sexualized children stripped of their innocence; violent television results in desensitization to violence.

These people don’t care about empowering parents. They just want to keep all channels free of sex, adult language, violence, anything they consider pro-gay, anything they consider anti-Christian. All Barney all the time. Great. I’d love to be able to not pay for the channels I don’t watch, but if the price of that is to give into these psychos, no thanks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Staying up late

I remember when I was a kid. I was the bad kid who thought staying awake until my family was all in bed then sneaking into the den to watch the good shows was fun. I got to see the more interesting programming that way. But I am a perfectly functioning member of society now. (albeit with reduced motivation resulting in low productivity.) [by the way I learned all those words while watching tv. Stupid edutainment.] Anyway, what I am saying is that just watching what your kids are doing is not the whole end-all-be-all answer. My parents taught me values from a very young age and have been consistent. I know that is difficult to do but I hope that I am a strong enough parent at some point to do the same service for my future children. I would hate to leave my kids weak enough that they have to look to tv for role models and can’t figure out that killing people is bad and that you don’t sing the Southpark movie theme song for your prospective employer, or tell those certain jokes around grandma and grandpa/polite company. There is a time and place for everything but you have to lay down the bedrock of a strong moral foundation first. Because if the FCC succeeds in getting rid of all “offensive” programming, the kids will just get more creative at finding something they aren’t supposed to do.

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

Ala-Carte programming

If I watched TV (and as a general rule I don’t) I wouldn’t mind having the ability to tell the cable company that there are certain channels I don’t want. No, I don’t have kids, it’s just that I would like to be able to have just the few channels that I consider to be worth watching without having to wade through 57 channels of crap. It would be even better if their programming guide channel didn’t list the channels I didn’t have.

It’s not about price; it’s about removing a small, but unnecessary, annoyance from my life.

Avatar28 says:

Stay away FCC

I am a father of three kids, two 7 year olds and a 9 year old. No, not twins, just a blended family (since everyone asks).

We have three tvs in our house. A big screen in the den, one in our bedroom, and one in the kids playroom. Guess what, all three of them have parental controls. Of course the big screen and the one in our bedroom aren’t enabled, the kids don’t usually watch those and if they do it’s usually with us. Guess what, the one in the playroom has the vchip enabled. The kids aren’t able to watch anything we don’t think is appropriate. Simple as that. If there is something they want to watch that’s blocked they have to ask us first.

Stephen Zimmett says:

cable and satellite channels to watch

I believe that customers should have a choice on which channels to buy be it cable or satellite.
I believe that satellite should say charge $20.00 for basic service hookup then perhaps $1.00 for each channel you wish to receive. The average viewer watches between 15 and 20 channels.
I currently have Directv and pay some $56.00 for about 115 channels. I believe that I would drop some 80 channels if I could go ala carte.
Otherwise the only thing that a parent could do is block the channels he does not wish his kids to watch. Blocking has been around for some time.
I recently wrote to Directv about this and claimed that their subscriber base would increase two or three fold if they offered this to customers. Lets see what happens.

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