Thursday, March 17, 2005

Talk Dirty to Us 

You doubtless recall the recent proposal by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) that Congress impose decency standards on cable and satellite media, as if consumers weren't shelling out hard cash to have all that simulated sex and salty language piped directly into their homes. Now Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has struck back, introducing legislation to safeguard our God-given, Constitutionally-guaranteed right to the smut of our choice:
Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced the introduction of legislation to prevent the government from censoring the content on popular cable T.V. shows and Internet websites. Sanders' proposal is in response to recently approved House legislation increasing Federal Communication Commission (FCC) "indecency" fines for broadcast television and radio. The Senate is considering companion legislation and some in the Senate have proposed imposing these same "indecency" regulations on programming provided over cable, satellite, and the Internet. If this proposal were adopted, Americans would be unable to view popular shows like The Sopranos and The Daily Show or would only be able to watch them late at night . . . .

Sanders legislation clarifies that the FCC's power to regulate indecency applies only to material broadcast over public airwaves and would forbid application of the regulations to cable, satellite, the internet or other mediums that are selected and paid for by consumers.

Sanders continued, "We don't need the FCC bleeping Tony Soprano or Jon Stewart. [Jon Stewart is on basic cable and gets bleeped already, but you get the principle. --S.] Allowing the FCC to regulate these venues would, in affect, permit the government to control what content people can purchase. That offends basic American principles of freedom and liberty that are the foundation of our democracy."
Sanders's legislation comes just in time, because Kevin Martin, the next chairman of the FCC, is described by Eric Boehlert of Salon as an even bigger decency-hound than outgoing chair Michael Powell:
He served as deputy general counsel on Bush's 2000 campaign, while his wife, Catherine, is a special assistant to the president on economic policy, and previously worked as an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. FCC watchers have noted how, by subtly withholding support, Martin at times made life difficult for Powell, his fellow Republican at the FCC. For instance, although Martin voted with Powell in 2003 to allow for further media consolidation, Martin rarely tried to lead on the issue or publicly rally support for the measure. So when Congress and the courts moved in to help block part of the deregulation package, it was Powell left with the stain on his resume.

As for the issue of indecency, which popped to the forefront following Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance, Martin has been to the right of Powell. Although the FCC ended up fining CBS' parent Viacom $550,000 for airing the fleeting moment, Martin wanted to go further and have the commission investigate the entire gyrating halftime program, which he felt was too crude. Additionally, last month while speaking at a telecommunications summit, Martin embraced the notion that cable television and satellite radio, which will soon play home to Howard Stern, should be policed the same way over-the-air radio and television broadcasts are.

"It is, sadly, a victory for the forces of so-called 'decency,'" says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which has battled the FCC over policy in recent years. “Religious and conservative groups campaigned for the elevation of Mr. Martin. They have succeeded in establishing a new 'litmus' test for the FCC chair --someone who will be at the forefront of monitoring programming.”

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