WASHINGTON — Undaunted by a cease-fire agreement reached last week between some of their congressional colleagues and the TV industry, a group of U.S. senators used a subcommittee hearing Wednesday to push for legislation designed to reduce violence and sex on television.
The TV Improvement Act of 1997 would give broadcasters and cablers a limited antitrust exemption that would allow the industry executives to “get together and develop some guidelines – or a code of conduct – that could help them to act more responsibly when choosing which programs they produce and broadcast,” said Senate Antitrust Subcommittee chairman Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
Taking the opportunity to testify as a witness at the hearing was culture warrior Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who said the latest industry effort at rating program content does not go far enough. “You can put a rating on garbage, but that won’t make it stink any less,” Lieberman said.
“Parents want higher quality and lower amounts of what might be called must-flee TV,” said Lieberman, who added that too much TV programming consists of “feel-good killing, talkshow debauchery, bed-hopping without consequence (and a) general anything-goes mentality.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt who, as expected, endorsed the proposal for a limited antitrust waiver for the TV industry. Hundt also used his appearance to push the subcommittee to ensure that the antitrust waiver could be used so that the industry could enact a voluntary ban on all alcohol advertising.
Since the hard-liquor industry gave up its voluntary ban on broadcast advertising last year, Hundt has encouraged broadcasters to refuse any spirits industry ads. While most major broadcasters and cablers are refusing the ads, Hundt told the subcommittee that media companies should be protected from potential litigation, should they ever decide to hold formal intra-industry talks concerning the issue of hard-liquor advertising.
“They should not have to fear that the hard-liquor industry would sue them if they have these meaningful talks,” Hundt said.
Network lobbyists said Wednesday they are confident the cease-fire deal reached with key members of Congress, including Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), will leave the TV Improvement Act bottled up in Judiciary Committee. Under the deal, members of Congress agreed to refrain from content-related legislation in return for a TV industry commitment to stronger content ratings. The revised rating plan, which will identify shows that have strong sexual or violent content, was released last week.