Jackson juices debate

Flip-flops on indecency standards have broadcasters shouting foul

Washington, D.C., will play a muted role at this week’s National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab, with Democratic regulator Michael Copps down as the sole member of the Federal Communications Commission to appear at the Las Vegas gathering.

That doesn’t mean all things political will be absent in terms of buzz, considering the ongoing crackdown on indecency on the airwaves and the uncertain fate of media ownership regs.

Other pressing topics include the transition to digital and the fight by TV stations owners to require cable ops to carry all their digital signals.

Copps is skedded to be a panelist on the lone Washington-centric panel, “Legislative Session: The Regulatory Landscape,” to be held Wednesday morning Jan. 26.

Even before Janet Jackson bared her breast last year during the Super Bowl halftime show, Copps was vocal on the topic of indecency, repeatedly urging the agency to take a more hard-line approach. The Jackson debacle invigorated Copps’ fight, with FCC chair Michael Powell embracing the issue.

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It’s a touchy subject for broadcasters. Why, they argue, should they be penalized when the cable biz essentially goes unregulated in regards to obscenity and indecency? How can broadcasters possibly be expected to compete with the more cutting-edge programming on cable nets?

So far, this argument hasn’t swayed the FCC, which is quick to remind broadcasters that they are held to a different standard since they get free use of the public airwaves.

Some of the more hard-line lawmakers on Capitol Hill have made noise about securing legislation that would extend indecency regs to the cable biz, but such a move is unlikely to gain widespread support.

While media ownership rules remain a pressing concern for the TV biz, the matter remains stalled due to the fact that the FCC’s move to ease various regs is the subject of court actions.

The year 2005 could come and go without the fate of the rules being resolved.

Moderating the Wednesday NATPE panel will be Washington attorney Mickey Gardner, who has represented the creative community on ownership regs. Gardner argues that any further consolidation would only serve to stifle creativity and diversity of programming.

Copps sides with the creative community on the topic of media ownership and was successful in forcing Powell to retreat and agree to let the public have more of an input on whether ownership rules should be relaxed.

Those showing up for the sesh also should expect an update on where the transition to digital stands.

Following Copps’ remarks, USC Center for Digital Future director Jeff Cole will moderate a panel featuring Tribune Co. chair-CEO Dennis FitzSimons, Bear Stearns broadcasting analyst Victor Miller and Media Access Project prexy Andrew Schwartzman.