Corporate lobbies give both liberals and conservatives the willies. They don't have one of those strict and thorny ideologies that supposedly ruins Washington. They slickly dance to a different tune, with the title "What's In It For Me?"
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association is one of these lobbies. One of their jobs is to preserve the entrenched cable television system from the demands of consumers. In a press conference at the National Press Club this week, they handed out slick yellow folders with the headline "Cable Puts YOU In Control." Cable consumers should laugh at that one.
In its attempts to control the damage to cable TV's reputation -- for being the television equivalent of a man selling skin magazines and gory comic books out of a trench coat on a street corner -- the NCTA proposed what it would like the public, and legislators, to think is a bold plan of action. It will "spend" the equivalent of $250 million of its advertising time airing public-service announcements explaining how parents can use the V-chip to screen out offensive programming. It will also encourage cable channels to increase the size of TV ratings on screen and ask that they put the ratings up after every commercial.
There's just one itty-bitty problem with these "solutions." Neither of them works.
For the V-chip to work effectively, it must rely on an accurate ratings system. This ratings system is at best wildly inconsistent, with each network making its own decisions determining what is or isn't offensive in its own programming. At worst, it's a joke. As has been documented numerous times, TV producers regularly refuse to attach the very program descriptors ("L" for foul language, "V" for violence and so on) to programs that would require them. So much for the letter and the spirit of this voluntary ratings system. So much for the usefulness of the V-chip.
How naive is the cable industry that it would push these "solutions"? Doesn't it know the system is an unworkable mess? Sadly, the answer is yes. So how intellectually dishonest is it for Washington lobbyists to pretend this works and wrap themselves in the cloak of caring about parental control?