Flexible TV Options Eyed; FCC Chief Says Industry Must Protect Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Caterinicchia, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The broadcasting industry should provide parents with more flexible cable and satellite purchasing options to help them protect children from indecent programming, before it becomes a government requirement, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said yesterday.

Parents must be the first line of defense, but broadcasters also are responsible and government oversight should occur only when the other two have failed, Mr. Martin said during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee forum on decency in the media.

Mr. Martin outlined numerous possible approaches to the problem, including:

*Creating family-friendly program tiers that don't bundle channels like Nickelodeon with others that air racier content;

*Allowing subscribers to buy channels individually with their choices priced accordingly;

*Making basic and expanded cable service adhere to the same indecency rules currently reserved for broadcast networks.

He did not endorse any proposal, but when asked directly if the FCC should be given the authority to enforce decency standards on cable and satellite providers, Mr. Martin said Congress should decide because "something should be done to address programming issues parents have raised."

A report completed last year when Michael Powell was FCC chairman found individually purchased, called "a la carte," or tiered programming would not be cost-effective for consumers and could result in the shuttering of certain cable channels that rely on bundling to stay afloat.

Mr. Martin said those conclusions were based on flawed methodology and biased analysis, and that a new report concludes both options are economically feasible and in consumers' best interests.

Mr. Powell disputed his successor's assertions: "I thought the report last year was perfectly sound and the data unquestionably led to the conclusion that we reached."

"If there were errors in the reports, I disagree that they were [severe] enough to discount the conclusions completely," said Mr. Powell, now a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners Inc. …