Senator Wants to Ban Some Content on Cable TV, Satellite

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — Only one day after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared war on obscenity, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said that U.S. regulators should have the right to regulate content on pay-TV stations, including pay-per-view and video-on-demand.

Sen. Ted Stevens, speaking to reporters Tuesday at the National Association of Broadcasters' annual state leadership convention, said that because most people receive their TV via cable or satellite, the government has the power to regulate indecency.

“The problem is most viewers don't differentiate between over-the-air and cable,” Stevens said. “Cable is a greater violator in the indecency arena.”

The Alaskan Republican swept aside constitutional questions about whether government has the right to regulate indecency on pay TV services.

“I think that's wrong,” he said. “I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over the air, because of the combination of the two. [Cable companies] must live up to the same standards we apply to [over-the-air broadcasters].”

Kat Sunlove of the Free Speech Coalition immediately blasted Stevens’ speech, saying parents have options of using channel-blocking technology or simply not subscribing to pay TV.

“These are complex issues, but the fact is parents have the control to limit what their children watch through the built-in protections,” Sunlove told XBiz. “To get this material, you have to actively pay for it using credit cards — something children can’t do.”

Stevens, however, argued that parents can’t be all-day monitors of their kids’ viewing, given that 70 percent of mothers with teenagers work.

“If Haagen Daas is in the refrigerator, it might be too tempting to expect a teenager never to eat it,” he said. “But if it never makes it into the shopping cart, the temptation won’t be there.”

The cable industry so far has been able to evade the type of federal limits on over-the-air stations.

Stations can be fined if they carry indecent programming between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. A year-long crackdown has led to record-breaking FCC fines and settlements and Congress is expected to pass even tougher penalties this year.

Stevens said he would like to build upon a House-passed bill by adding some kind of restrictions on cable TV and satellite.