Cable and sat exex warned on indecency

LAS VEGAS — If cable and satellite broadcasters don’t clean up their act through self-regulation, they may soon face a congressional attempt to impose indecency standards, House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton of Texas said Monday at the National Assn. of Broadcasters conference.

Barton’s warning came during a congressional breakfast on the opening day of NAB, during which six congressmen and senators active in telecommunications issues spoke. All were Republicans generally friendly to broadcasting industry positions and hostile to Hollywood over indecency.

Other participants in the panel included Sen. Conrad Burns (Mont.), Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.), chairman of the Telecommunications Subcommittee, and Jim Sensenbrenner (Wisc.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as well as Reps. Michael Bilirakis (Fla.) and Greg Walden (Ore.).

Upton, one of the leading proponents of the recently passed House bill increasing fines for indecency, emphasized that he wasn’t looking to expand regulations but simply to increase the penalties for violating FCC profanity codes.

Barton, however, said there is little difference in viewers’ minds between broadcast and cable channels and that indecency standards should therefore apply across the board. Barton added that he was open to industry self-regulation but doubted it would succeed and thought legislation would be necessary in three or four years.

Barton largely dismissed concerns over whether Congress can regulate content beyond the public airwaves. Asked whether people who want to watch more mature content should be allowed to, Barton said he was open to a system that would rate cable channels in a manner similar to movies.

Panel paid little attention to Hollywood concerns over censorship, with Burns noting with near-contempt, “I met with the so-called creative community, and they have some work to do.”

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also spoke at a breakfast meeting Monday, emphasizing the role of local broadcasters in terrorism preparation and warnings. He said his department will soon be conducting 10 regional exercises to bring together media and government professionals to strengthen emergency capabilities.

Meetings were followed by NAB’s opening ceremony, during which org prexy Eddie Fritts emphasized the broadcasting industry’s work in public service, which he pegged as worth $9.9 billion last year, in an attempt to portray his business’s value to the nation in the face of increasing competition from cable and satellite.

Among NAB legislative concerns he highlighted were support for a bill calling on the FCC to enforce previous satellite radio industry promises to not run local content and “must-carry” laws compelling cable companies to run local stations’ digital broadcasts.

Fritts’ speech was followed by a keynote address from Hewlett-Packard chief exec Carly Fiorina, in which she called on broadcasters to use new digital technology to help provide viewers with greater perspective and context to sort through the increasing flood of available information.

Org then gave its distinguished service award to Oprah Winfrey.

(Barbara Scherzer contributed to this report.)

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