FCC’s Martin Speaks Out on Indecency

WASHINGTON A top federal regulator today said cable operators could sell family-friendly program tiers, or offer channels on an a la carte basis so families could keep objectionable programming out of homes.

“The industry needs to do more to address parents’ legitimate concerns,” Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin told a congressionally sponsored forum. “Something has to be done.”

Without specifically endorsing any proposal, Martin also suggested basic cable packages could be regulated for indecent content. Currently, only broadcast TV and radio are regulated, under an exception to the First Amendment. Including cable would require congressional action, and for the change to survive likely challenge before the Supreme Court.

Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, called a la carte programming “a very dangerous idea” that would decrease consumer choice because it would make it harder for new channels to attract viewers.

McSlarrow, whose group represents large cable operators, said any government intervention in cable programming would violate the First Amendment.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R.-Alaska, chair of the Commerce Committee, which is working toward passing anti-indecency legislation, convened the daylong forum in Washington. A House-passed bill to sharply increase fines for broadcast indecency is languishing as the Senate makes up its mind.

“We want to let Congress have a better chance to understand all of the points of view,” Stevens said. He did not say what form legislation might take but said, “Parents have a right to try to protect their children from some of the things they can run into in the media.”