'Safe Viewing Act’ OK’d

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin mildly criticized a bill that would require his agency to study parents’ access to technologies that are capable of shielding children from inappropriate content on television and the Internet.

“In general, I would say I support it,” Martin told reporters last Tuesday, adding: “I’m not sure that it goes far enough to actually empower parents the way that they need to be to end up addressing all concerns.”

The night before, the Senate sent President Bush the Child Safe Viewing Act, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The bill (S. 602) had already passed the Senate once but had to return for repassage after the House removed various findings about TV’s societal impact.

Senate leaders, back on Capitol Hill last Monday for a lame-duck session, “hotlined” Pryor’s bill, meaning it would be considered passed if no senator filed an objection. Pryor’s bill passed unopposed for the second time.

“With over 500 channels and video streaming, parents could use a little help monitoring what their kids watch when they are not in the room,” Pryor said in a statement Tuesday. “Today’s technology to protect children from indecency goes above and beyond the capabilities of the V-Chip.”

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.”

That restriction probably explains Martin’s problems with Pryor’s bill. Martin has stated repeatedly that the best way for consumers to exclude violent and indecent programming is for pay TV distributors to retail channels on an a la carte basis in lieu packages with dozens of channels.

“I think trying to find additional ways to help empower parents is always good thing, so I don’t think I have any particular objection [with the Pryor bill],” Martin said.

Pryor’s bill would limit the FCC to issuing a notice of inquiry. The agency would not be authorized to adopt any 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.

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

The individual findings eliminated by the House were:

  • Video programming has a direct impact on a child’s perception of safe and reasonable behavior.
  • Children may imitate actions they witness on video programming, including language, drug use and sexual conduct.
  • Studies suggest that the strong appeal of video programming erodes the ability of parents to develop responsible attitudes and behavior in their children.
  • The average American child watches four hours of television each day.
  • 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.
  • There is a compelling government interest in empowering parents to limit their children’s exposure to harmful television content.
  • 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.
  • 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.”

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