House OKs Pryor Bill


The House on Oct. 3 passed a bill requiring the Federal Communications Commission to study parents' access to advanced technologies that are capable of blocking content on television and the Internet.

The House, however, did not pass an identical version of the bill (S. 602) approved by the Senate two days before, meaning the bill can't be sent to President Bush for his signature.

The House stripped out a series of congressional “findings” from the Senate bill before passing it by unanimous consent.

Still, the Child Safe Viewing Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in 2007, could become law this year if the Senate returns for a lame duck session on Nov. 17 and agrees to the House's amendment.

Eigth individual findings were eliminated by the House, including one that “video programming has a direct impact on a child's perception of safe and reasonable behavior,” and another that “children may imitate actions they witness on video programming, including language, drug use, and sexual conduct.”

Under Pryor's bill, the FCC would be restricted to conducting a study for Congress within 270 days; its analysis could not recommend technologies that “affect the packaging or pricing of a content provider's offering.”

The Pryor bill is another attempt at finding a technological fix to the problem of children viewing indecent and excessively violent content supplied by broadcasters, pay TV operators and now Internet-access providers.

In recent years, the FCC has been cracking down on TV stations that have aired indecent content between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when children are likely viewing in large numbers.

“It's time for the FCC to take a fresh look at how the market can empower parents with more tools to choose appropriate programming for their children. This bill is a pragmatic, sensible approach where parents, kids and technology can all benefit,” Pryor said in a statement after the Senate vote.

On Nov. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case deciding whether the FCC has the authority to punish TV stations that air “fleeting” obscenities or whether such content-based regulation is too strict under the First Amendment.

It's the most important broadcast indecency case to be decided by the high court since 1978.

In a June speech, FCC Democrat Jonathan Adelstein called on FCC chairman Kevin Martin to use the agency's existing authority to conduct the study called for in Pryor's bill.

“We don't need to have final congressional approval to launch this study. We should have launched it a long time ago,” Adelstein told Multichannel News after the House vote.

Under the Pryor bill, the FCC would be required to issue a notice of inquiry, and it would not be authorized to adopt rules.

Pryor's bill directs the FCC to examine “the existence and availability of advanced blocking technologies that are compatible with various communications devices or platforms.”

It would also order the FCC to study ways to encourage parental use of such technologies on “wired, wireless and Internet platforms” in order to shield children “from indecent or objectionable programming” as determined by parents.