December 5, 2005

TV industry weighs how to head off decency row

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Television and cable industry
representatives met on Monday to try to address concerns about
racier shows and head off possible government regulations, two
sources familiar with the talks said.

The meeting included a discussion on how to deal with
confusion over different rating systems for television shows
and movies, which advocacy groups have complained are
inadequate, said the sources, who spoke on condition of

The closed-door meeting, organized by veteran entertainment
industry lobbyist Jack Valenti, followed a U.S. Senate forum
last week where the industry was pressured to help parents
shield children from programs with sexual or profane content.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and
some lawmakers have urged cable companies like Comcast Corp. to
offer "family-friendly" programing packages or permit consumers
to pay for only the channels they want.

Television and radio broadcasters are restricted from
airing overtly sexual or profane shows except late at night
when children are less likely to be awake. Those rules do not
apply to cable or satellite.

Most cable companies have resisted the pressure, arguing
that their content cannot be regulated because consumers pay
for it and such restrictions would violate free speech rights.

Valenti, who helped develop a rating system for the movie
industry, urged lawmakers to let the industry come up with a

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska
Republican, has agreed to allow the industry time to adopt
voluntary standards but refused to rule out congressional

In late 1996, television broadcasters, cable companies and
the movie industry developed a rating system for television
shows and then added content descriptions after complaints.
Most television sets made after 1999 include a V-chip
technology that allows parents to block some shows.

The Parents Television Council, which wants to block sexual
content and profanity on television, complained in April that
many ratings did not contain accurate warnings about language,
sexual content or violence.

The television industry has taken a few steps to address
the criticism, showing a program's rating after commercial
breaks and making the symbols bigger. Cable companies also have
run advertisements to show parents how to block out channels.

Representatives from most of the major television networks
and programmers participated in Monday's meeting. They included
from General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, Viacom Inc., News
Corp., Walt Disney Co., the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the
Motion Picture Association of America, which Valenti used to