Summit Over Indecency Scheduled Today

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nation’s broadcasters scheduled a closed-door summit with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to talk about possible programming changes as pressure mounts to clean up the airwaves.

The Bush Administration has put increasing pressure on regulators and lawmakers to stomp out indecent programming. U.S. law bars radio stations and television stations from airing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The rules don't apply to websites, cable and satellite channels or satellite radio.

FCC Chairman Michael Copps warned broadcasters that regulators are serious about holding broadcasters accountable and may start revoking the licenses of stations that repeatedly air indecent programs.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the powerful broadcast lobby holding the meeting, told Dow Jones Newswires that the broadcasters say the summit is evidence that they take the issue seriously.

"We thought it was an appropriate time for the industry to get in one room and discuss an appropriate response," Wharton said. "We're not oblivious to some of the concerns that have been expressed by both parents and policy-makers."

In advance of the summit, which will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, the four major networks on Tuesday launched a new advertising campaign to highlight the V-chip.

The Advertising Council said it would work with NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox to produce public service announcements tailored to each network on the V-Chip, which is required in all televisions with screens 13 inches or larger.

The chip allows people to block programming from their TVs based on the content ratings system used by the TV broadcasting industry. The Ad Council said fewer than 10 percent of parents use the V-Chip in their TVs and about 80 percent of parents who have TVs with the chip are unaware of it.

The controversy over broadcast indecency erupted earlier this year when singer Janet Jackson bared a breast during halftime of the Super Bowl on CBS.

Just this month, the House voted to raise the maximum indecency fine to $500,000 and the Senate Commerce Committee approved similar language. The FCC has announced several large fines recently and told broadcasters that virtually any use of the "f-word" was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.

And most recently Clear Channel adopted a code of conduct for its personalities, suspended Howard Stern from its six stations that carried him, and paid a record $755,000 indecency fine for broadcasts by a radio personality known as "Bubba the Love Sponge," who was fired.

Separately, the NAB will hold its annual convention in April. The Las Vegas Hilton event is the world's largest electronic media show covering the development, delivery and management of professional video and audio content across all media.

Six members of Congress – Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), House Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Wisc.), and Reps. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Greg Walden (R-Wash.) – will speak at an April 19 breakfast.