Vote Undercuts Kerry’s Remarks


Recent statements made by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on C-SPAN appeared to clash with a vote he cast three months earlier in which he supported the application of broadcast-indecency rules to cable programming.

A Kerry Senate spokesman rejected that interpretation, and said the Democratic presidential candidate simply meant to outline a broad philosophy about content regulation of cable channels.

TV and radio stations are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission for indecency, which includes a ban on smutty talk and graphic sex from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Cable programming is not covered by the FCC rules, which can carry large monetary fines.

Some in Congress, including House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) are pushing to regulate cable channels for indecency.

Barton and others argue that because cable is as familiar in the home as broadcast TV, disparate regulatory treatment of the two is no longer justified.

When asked by C-SPAN interviewer Susan Swain whether he supported extending FCC indecency rules to cable, Kerry suggested that he did not, owing to the distinction between over-the-air TV programming that can be seen free-of-charge and cable programming that must be purchased.

“I think there is a distinction between public broadcast and the notions we’ve had historically about family time, family hour, and what you buy privately and personally. I am not in favor of government interference and censorship and restriction of what an individual privately can decide to do in their home, in their own space, so to speak,” Kerry told C-SPAN viewers.

The interview took place June 3 at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Mo., and aired on C-SPAN Sunday, June 5.

Kerry’s response stood out because in March, he voted for an amendment in the Senate Commerce Committee that would have automatically applied broadcast indecency rules to expanded basic cable programming.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), would have lifted the regulations after the FCC concluded in a rulemaking that at least 85% of U.S. TV households with children either used the channel-blocking V-chip or had notified their pay TV provider that they did not want to use any blocking technology.

Breaux’s amendment was defeated by a single vote. An absent Kerry, who was on the Democratic presidential-campaign trail, cast his vote by proxy.

Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has come under attack from the Bush campaign for changing his mind too often.

Kerry’s Senate spokesman, Andy Davis, said the senator’s C-SPAN remarks were not at odds with his support for the Breaux amendment.

“He says we’ve got to find a way to balance public-decency standards with individual rights,” Davis said. “In his answer, he does not say that there is one particular policy prescription that sets that balance.”

Davis noted that Breaux’s amendment did not include premium cable networks. He said the exclusion was an example of Kerry drawing the line.

“That is an attempt to strike that balance. He makes a distinction between basic cable and premium pay channels,” Davis said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which is lobbying Congress to block cable-indecency legislation, declined to comment on Kerry’s C-SPAN statements.

“We are not offering any comment or interpretation of what he said,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said.