New Group Aims to Curb TV Censorship

Matt O'Conner
NEW YORK — The “Big Three” television networks, along with a motley assortment of special-interest groups, have partnered to form TV Watch to lobby against government control of TV programming.

NBC, ABC and CBS will fund the group, which also includes such diverse members as the American Conservative Union, The Creative Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.

The goal, according to Executive Director Jim Dyke, is to promote non-governmental alternatives such as content ratings and channel-blocking technologies.

“The debate has been dominated by advocates of increased government control,” Dyke said. “TV Watch speaks for most Americans who today are not represented in the debate over rising government regulation of television programming and who want to protect their favorite shows from censorship.”

When speaking of “most Americans,” Dyke is referring specifically to the findings of a TV Watch-sponsored national survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Lutz Research Companies as well as an independent survey by the Pew Research Centers.

Respondents to both polls said they preferred parental control to banning content from the air and that they believed censorship poses a greater threat than racy programming.

The problem, Dyke said, is that most parents simply aren’t aware of or don’t know how to use tools such as channel-blocking features and V-chip technology. “Clearly, the process for educating parents and other viewers needs improvement,” he said.

Both broadcasters and cable companies alike have been feeling intense heat from watchdog groups and the government this year.

As XBiz previously reported, Congress is considering a measure that could dramatically raise fines for broadcast indecency to a whooping $500,000 per violation. Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he may introduce legislation that would carry jail time for broadcasters who violate indecency regulations.

Sen. Ted Stevens took the censorship effort a step further by arguing that the Federal Communications Commission also should have the right to regulate content on pay-TV stations, including pay-per-view and video-on-demand.

Most of these efforts can be traced back to the controversy surrounding last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, in which Janet Jackson’s breast was partially exposed for several seconds, coupled with relentless letter-writing campaigns spearheaded by a single organization, The Parents Television Council.

FCC statistics revealed that more than 99 percent of indecency complaints the regulatory agency received in 2004, excluding those regarding Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” were filed by The Parents Television Council.