Sen. Ted Stevens, a critic of the indecencies flooding cable television, tried to be nice in response, calling this lame press strategy "a step in the right direction ... It shows they're thinking about the issues we've raised." But the lobbyists are not thinking about addressing issues Congress has raised. They're thinking about how to get around the issues Congress has raised. Some might argue that the cable networks putting on a few explanatory ads is progress, since one study found that during all of 2000, Fox, NBC and ABC aired a total of five promos -- combined -- explaining their TV ratings systems. But is it really a step in the right direction to take a broken system, a publicity sham, and publicize it more?
Consumers are asking the cable industry a serious question: Why do we have to subsidize MTV "Spring Break" strip shows and FX plots on "The Shield" about cops who get aroused watching rapes on videotape? Even if consumers ever do figure out how to block this raunch, why should they have to continue subsidizing it every month in their cable bills?
Many parents don't like the "choice" of being forced to pay for Hollywood's most offensive "creative visions," and it certainly doesn't leave them feeling in "control" of cable TV. They ask themselves a simple question: Why can I call the cable company to order and pay for HBO when I want it, but I can't call and cancel and stop paying for MTV when I don't? Tom Baxter of Time Warner Cable, in a typical industry response, said that offering customers some channel choice "may end up locking consumers into outdated choices." In other words, consumers can't be trusted to choose what they want.
NCTA's insincerity makes the cable industry look like the tobacco industry. Big Tobacco accepted a settlement that mandated them to spend millions on lame, ineffective TV ads suggesting smoking isn't a good thing. If they really believe this, why not just stop making smokes? If they don't believe it, why are they pushing an argument they believe to be false? The same applies to cable: If you really agree this programming is offensive, a problem for parents -- then why are you producing it?
There's only one sincere choice for the industry and its lobbyists to take: Fix it. Clean it up. Give consumers a real choice to avoid the cultural pollution in our homes. At the very least, don't insult us by coming before the press and claiming you give a hoot about what toxic television is doing to the culture, in our homes and in our schools and neighborhoods.