Policy

Stevens Not Ready on Cable Indecency

5/03/2005 10:25 AM Eastern

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is still considering his options regarding legislation that might impose program-indecency rules on cable television, a senior aide to the lawmaker said Tuesday.

In March, Stevens spoke out against sex and profanity on cable, indicating he was prepared to address the problem with legislation. The cable industry responded last week with a $250 million ad campaign to educate parents about blocking technology that cable systems would give to consumers in some cases.

Lisa Sutherland, the committee’s majority staff director, said Stevens is continuing to think about the issue and reviewing various bills, including one introduced last week by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would require cable and satellite providers to establish within one year a “child friendly” tier, free of sex and violence, or face fines of $500,000 per day.

“We are still kind of in the thinking stage about where to proceed from here,” said Sutherland, a panelist at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association Forum here.

The House has already passed a bill increasing broadcast indecency fines from $32,500 to $500,000 per offense, causing some broadcasters to pressure the Senate to bring cable within the indecency regime, given that 85% of TV homes subscribe to cable or satellite.

“We have not scheduled a hearing or mark up yet because we wanted to give the [cable] industry a chance to see what it might do to address some of these issues,” Sutherland said, calling cable’s moves last week “big strides” even though Stevens wanted to see cable “go a little further in terms of trying to address a kind of family-friendly cable tier.”

One option being discussed, she said, was “maybe the bottom 20 channels be kind of family friendly in terms of indecency requirements.”

March