Senate move is attack on TV industry's ratings

WASHINGTON — Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would allow his committee to consider a proposal that would ban violent TV programming during times when kids are most likely to be watching television.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), is modeled on the FCC’s indecency ban, which bars explicit programming on TV stations between 6 a.m and 10 p.m.

In an effort to force broadcasters to amend their program ratings code, the Hollings bill would exempt from the ban any program tagged with a label that gives specific information about the sexual and violent content. The current TV code only makes recommendations for viewing based on a child’s age.

McCain has opposed the Hollings bill in the past but said he could change his mind, if broadcasters do not rewrite their labeling system to provide parents more information about the content of TV shows. “I still hope that we can work something out with broadcasters that would lead to a content-based ratings system,” McCain said.

“It is unfortunate that chairman McCain has decided to move new legislation,” said National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, adding: “We were under the impression that he preferred the voluntary industry-adopted TV program ratings system, which we were committed to improving.”

Asked if broadcasters are no longer willing to amend the rating system, Wharton replied: “The statement speaks for itself.”

Another blow

In another blow to broadcasters, McCain also said Wednesday that he will introduce a bill that would require broadcasters to give up their current channels in 2006. The proposal would turn into law an FCC decision made earlier this month that gave every TV station in the country until 2006 to complete the migration to digital broadcasting. Of course, the proposal also, in effect, would force every TV household in the U.S. to acquire a digital TV or a set-top converter box within nine years.

While the FCC set a goal of completing the transition by 2006, it also said it would review the progress of the national switch to digital TV every two years. The Clinton administration wants to reclaim the so-called analog channels so that they can be sold at auction. The administration’s budget proposal counts on the auction to raise $14.8 billion to offset the federal budget deficit.

No action on News Corp.

During a meeting with reporters Wednesday, McCain also said it is unlikely that any action will be taken on News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch’s request for adjustments to copyright law that would allow his U.S. DBS joint venture ASkyB to offer a package of programming that includes local broadcast channels. McCain said he will hold hearings on the issue this summer with the aim of writing a bill by mid-summer. Although McCain did not specifically endorse Murdoch’s request, he did say that he favors anything that has the potential to increase competition for cable and thus decrease fees for cable subscribers.

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