Washington -- The House last Friday 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 last Wednesday, meaning the bill can't be sent to President Bush for his signature just yet.
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.
The individual findings eliminated by the House were:
"(1)Video programming has a direct impact on a child's perception of safe and reasonable behavior.
(2) Children may imitate actions they witness on video programming, including language, drug use, and sexual conduct.
(3) Studies suggest that the strong appeal of video programming erodes the ability of parents to develop responsible attitudes and behavior in their children.
(4) The average American child watches 4 hours of television each day.
(5) 99.9% of all consumer complaints logged by the FCC the first quarter of 2006 regarding radio and television broadcasting were because of obscenity, indecency, and profanity.
(6) There is a compelling government interest in empowering parents to limit their children's exposure to harmful television content.
(7) Section 1 of the Communications Act of 1934 requires the FCC to promote the safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.
(8) In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress authorized Parental Choice in Television Programming and the V-Chip. Congress further directed action on alternative blocking technology as new video technology advanced."
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 effort 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 vote last Wednesday.
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.
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.