B’caster’s burden

NAB topper resigned to indecency regs

Broadcasters will never be free of indecency regulations, National Assn. of Broadcasters topper David Rehr predicted Wednesday.

At a Q&A session following a National Press Club speech, he also argued that cable and satellite TV should be similarly regulated. Since they are subscription services — or “invited guests,” as the government views them — they are not currently subject to indecency rules.

Parents should be more active in controlling what their children watch, Rehr added, and performers who violate indecency regs should also be held responsible, though he did not specify how.

During his speech, which outlined his overall vision for broadcasting, Rehr praised the interindustry PR campaign that former MPAA chief Jack Valenti is heading to inform parents of existing content controls. “The campaign has already been launched and has received strong positive reaction,” he said.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who personally asked Valenti last year to shepherd some kind of industry effort to address content concerns, recently hailed the effort.

But when asked about indecency regs, Rehr all but conceded that they are here to stay, and broadcasters will just have to deal with the thorny, and sometimes costly, issues involved. “The whole difficulty with this whole subject is that as a free people, we all have different ideas of what indecency means,” he said.

Still, cable TV should be similarly regulated because “they use free subscriptions for marketing,” he said, alluding to the government’s reasoning that, since broadcast signals are obtained freely — thus making them “uninvited guests” — Washington has an obligation to regulate them for content.

“I hope that Congress and the FCC relook at” whether cablers and satcasters should also be regulated, Rehr said.

Rehr also invoked regulatory ground on which the Senate recently refused to tread. The House passed a bill last year increasing indecency penalties, which included fines against performers. The Senate passed only a bill raising fines for broadcasters; the House eventually agreed to drop all other provisions, and President Bush signed the bill into law earlier this year.

But Rehr said, “I think there still needs to be some responsibility placed on those people involved in the acts themselves.”

Not quite a year into the job, Rehr focused his speech on rallying broadcasters, saying they had “inadvertently relinquished some of the excitement occurring in broadcasting to our competitors by not being more proactive. That ends today.”

He called for a united effort to better promote the strengths of broadcasting, which he listed as localism, the possibilities of digital technology and the fact that broadcast programming draws far more viewers than any other form.

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