For seven long hours on Tuesday (11/29) they argued. Some 25 panelists representing the networks, the cable industry, the satellite industry and family organizations (this writer represented one of the three family groups invited) met with Sen. Ted Stevens's (R-Ark.) Commerce Committee in an attempt to resolve the wretched state of affairs of entertainment programming. But what happened outside the room was the big news of the day. There may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Sen. Stevens, along with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hi.) laid down the gauntlet at the outset: Unless the participants could find a way to stem the flow of raunch pouring out of our television sets and blasting out of our radios, Congress will -- will -- step in.
They had every reason to be unequivocal. Every national survey shows the public is absolutely fed up with indecent, obscene, vulgar, offensive, inappropriate -- you pick the word -- programming flooding the airwaves, aimed at impressionable youngsters, and all because corporate behemoths could care less who they offend so long as they can make a buck. And for seven hours, predictably, the industry resisted, using one smokescreen after another.
They argued endlessly that no one wants government to control content. It sounds so good, particularly because you know the boogey-word that surely follows. Censorship! It was a dodge, and not a very good one at that. Of course no one wants government oversight, except government already has oversight, mandated by Congress in the Communications Act of 1934, and affirmed by the Supreme Court. It states that the public airwaves are owned by the public, and any network using them must -- not should, must -- abide by community standards of decency between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The industry has grossly, deliberately violated this law time and again -- because it could. For years a toothless FCC refused to exercise its oversight responsibility, and when finally it awoke from its slumber three years ago, it found its authority -- a fine of $32,500 for violations -- was laughable in the eyes of multi-billion dollar media giants. For two consecutive years the House has passed new legislation increasing the fines to a real $500,000 maximum per violation with the threat of a three-strikes-and-you're-out license revocation for repeat violators. Although numerous Senate bills have been proposed along these lines, nothing has moved in that chamber. Passage of a similar bill there would put real pressure on those in the industry breaking the law.