Kevin Martin, chairman of America's Federal Communications Commission, and others were given the chance to address Congress at an all-day forum on indecency today, the Associated Press has reported. The forum was held in response to increasing tension over the issue of children's exposure to violence and sexual situations on television, which has become a hot topic as the universe of cable and satellite TV continues to expand.
Martin declared that cable and satellite providers should increase their efforts to protect children from such seamy content or else face federal strictures on content. "Parents need better and more tools to help them navigate the entertainment waters, particularly on cable and satellite TV," he said. He then shared several possible strategies, such as providers offering a "family-friendly" channel package or a package composed of channels individually selected by the consumer.
Representatives from several cable and satellite television companies contended that such "a la carte" channel selection would create more work for them, which would in turn cause higher subscription costs for customers. They claimed that they are trying to ensure that parents know how to use the channel-blocking tools that they offer.
Many TV shows are currently branded with one of six content ratings meant to aid parents in determining what is appropriate for their children to view. These guidelines also work with V-chip technology, which is installed in most home televisions and allows parents to block shows with unacceptable ratings.
Martin believes that consumers should not have to pay for, and then block, offending channels because they are included in cable or satellite packages. "You can always turn the television off and of course block the channels you don't want," he said, "but why should you have to?"
Many others voiced their opinions on either side of the matter, including the Christian Coalition, which demanded higher fines for on-air indecency. These fines would only partially address the problem, however, as today's obscenity and indecency standards don't apply to satellite or cable broadcasting.
While some are eager to see those standards widened to cover the lacking arenas, others insist that broadcaster self-regulation is the only constitutional solution. Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, urged Congress to share his point of view. If the restrictions were imposed, he said, it would "begin to torment and torture the First Amendment."