FCC honcho standing by org’s indecency rulings

Commission wants family hour to reappear

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin stood by his agency’s recent indecency rulings, renewed his call for a family viewing hour and expressed hope that the FCC could once more take up the issue of multicast must-carry.

In a Q&A session at the National Assn. of Broadcasters’ annual convention and then later speaking to reporters, Martin reiterated his belief that the FCC’s recent indecency rulings were clear and “provide better guidance” on the issue. This despite the four major broadcast nets’ court challenges alleging some rulings are arbitrary and inconsistent.

Also on Tuesday, the White House renominated Martin for a second term as commissioner and chairman of the FCC. Senate approval will be required, but that will likely be little more than a formality.

Martin declared himself a supporter of industry attempts to educate parents about V-chip blocking technology, but added, “less than half of TVs out there have V-chips. Still other things need to be done.”

One thing could be a return to the so-called family viewing hour, in which the first hour of primetime television would consist of only family-friendly fare. Martin has often said he would like to see this happen.

He emphasized that cablers should do more regarding indecency, such as instituting a voluntary indecency standard (FCC does not regulate cable content) or offering a la carte subs.

Asked about the transition to digital television, skedded for completion in February 2009, Martin said he would like to revisit the issue of multicast must-carry, which would require cablers to carry as many as six digital broadcast channels. Current regs require carriage of only one.

Twice broadcasters have sought help from the FCC on the issue, but both times a majority of commissioners voted against it. Martin, then a commissioner under chairman Michael Powell, cast the lone vote in favor of multicast must-carry.

“It will be in the public interest” to have multicast must-carry, Martin said, because it would offer consumers more viewing choices and help “ease the digital transition.”

Martin said he would only bring up the issue again if a majority of commissioners agreed to do it. The FCC is split 2-2 between Republican and Democratic commissioners. Robert McDowell, a Republican who has been nominated to be the fifth commissioner, is still awaiting Senate confirmation.