November 23, 2005

Spectrum of groups to testify on indecency

By Brooks Boliek

WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - Groups ranging from media
companies to the Christian Coalition have agreed to testify in
a Senate forum on the nation's rules regulating steamy, crude
or vulgar content.

The forum, put together by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska and
scheduled for November 29, is being billed as an open
discussion on the "many issues surrounding decency."

And it looks as if he'll get just that, according to the
list of companies and groups expected to testify.

While Disney lobbyist Preston Padden is representing ABC,
Creative Coalition co-president Joe Pantoliano and Christian
Coalition president Roberta Combs also will present their

Former Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack
Valenti, inventor of the MPAA ratings system and its later
adaptation to television, also is will participate in the
forum, Commerce Committee staff confirmed.

"Sen. Stevens asked me if I would attend a work-forum on
ratings systems, how they work and how they were developed,"
Valenti said. "I told him I would be there."

Stevens wants to hold the "forum" instead of an official
Senate hearing because he doesn't want the participants to be
constrained by Senate rules.

"He wants to hear as many views as possible," said one
industry source. "He wants more give and take."

One issue that's sure to spark debate is the push by some
to include cable programming, as well as premium channels, to
adhere to broadcast-industry indecency standards.

Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air television
channels from airing references to sexual and excretory
functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children might be
tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite
channels or satellite radio.

National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. president and
CEO Kyle McSlarrow and National Association of Broadcasters
board chairman and Bonneville Broadcasting president and CEO
Bruce Reese are scheduled to attend.

Almost all cable channels label programming according to
the ratings system developed to work with the V-chip program
blocking technology mandated in 1996. In addition, motion
pictures on cable carry the MPAA ratings system designations.
The cable industry also allows subscribers to block channels,
though the subscribers still have to pay for the channels.

Some participants expected the hearing to be difficult for
both the broadcast and cable industries.

"It's not going to be pretty," one industry source said.

Congress has considered legislation that would increase the
fines for indecent broadcasts to $500,000 per incident from the
current $32,500 for a licensee and from $11,000 to $500,000 for
an individual entertainer. The bill also removes an FCC
provision that gave individuals a warning before issuing a

As defined by the FCC, material is indecent if it "in
context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or
organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by
contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."
Indecent speech can be safely aired between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter