New Group Fights Indecency Laws

After more than a year of controversy over coarse broadcasts, the networks fired back against their critics last week, launching an advocacy group to influence public opinion and ward off greater government regulation. But there were few indications of what form that advocacy would take.

The group, called TV Watch, on May 5 posted a Web site that touted parental controls and displayed a poll favorable to its message. Executive director Jim Dyke pointed to a membership that includes the American Conservative Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as media companies. “Bringing these strange bedfellows to speak in one voice is, we think, an important first step,” Dyke said.

Dyke, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, promised publicity campaigns, but declined to provide details. He also declined to say how much money the group receives from CBS parent Viacom, NBC Universal and Fox parent News Corp. (ABC owner Disney is not part of the group.) All three corporations oppose the sanctions issued by the Federal Communications Commission after the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during CBS’ 2004 Super Bowl telecast.

The Alexandria, Va.-based Parents Television Council and others have gained notice for mass e-mail campaigns to press for government action to cleanse the airwaves. Parents Television founder L. Brent Bozell III in a statement called TV Watch “a collection of random citizen and public policy groups that have simply been hired and paid by the networks to do their dirty work.”

Congress is considering legislation to increase the maximum fine for broadcast indecency to $500,000, as well as extend indecency regulation to cable and satellite services.