New Indecency Legislation Expected

WASHINGTON — Even staunch supporters admit they face major 1st Amendment issues with new indecency legislation being bantered around Washington this week, but with several new initiatives announced during Thursday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Internet pornography, it’s clear that indecency laws are heading for a change.

“Whatever we reach by consensus is going to happen now,” Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said at the hearing. “[But] whatever we mandate is going to go to court.”

The biggest pressure from lawmakers at the hearing has so far fallen on the TV industry, which is why Stevens invited TV industry executives to the hearing in the hopes of hashing out a voluntary self-policing plan that would avoid the need for further legislation.

So far, four content regulation bills remain stalled in his committee, including one that would increase penalties for indecency from $32,500 to $500,000, capping the maximum charged at a whopping $3 million a day. Another proposed bill, S. 616, targets video distributors, giving the Federal Communications Commission 60 days to figure out if children are protected by current distribution technology on a case by case — company by company — basis.

If after 60 days the distributors are found at fault, the bill would allow the FCC to further penalize an infringing company.

The only bill to spur active involvement from broadcasters so far is S. 946, which would require a major increase in the amount of “kid friendly” programming currently available. EchoStar, for example, which owns the Dish Network satellite system, announced during Thursday's hearing a new “DishFamily” network, which would offer 32 “family programming” channels.

Representatives at Ad Council also made it known during the hearing that the Council would create public service announcements to educate consumers on content blocking technology, including PSA’s on the infamous V-chip. Furthermore, broadcasters plan to display a TV program’s content rating during every commercial break, rather than merely during the opening of the show as is done now.

“Every parent in America has the total power to control all the television that is dispatched to their homes,” said former movie lobby chief Jack Valenti, who helped organize the Ad Council initiative.

Valenti, a strong proponent of self-policing in the industry, warned legislators that indecency laws were a dangerous water to tread.

“Don't torment and torture the 1st Amendment,” he said.