NAB, Nets to Hold Indecency Summit

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Under the gun from federal regulators, representatives of all of the major TV networks except NBC last week confirmed plans to attend an industry summit this spring aimed at toning down indecent programming.
As of late last week, a date for the National Association of Broadcasters gathering had yet to be announced.
Spokespersons for ABC, CBS and Fox said the networks plan to participate but have not decided whom to send. NBC declined comment on its plans.
In a Feb. 10 letter to top executives of the Big 4 TV networks and the NAB, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell urged the industry to get together to adopt a “voluntary code of conduct” aimed in particular at governing “indecent, profane and violent programming.”
NAB agreed to host a session on programming standards without specifically committing to the concept of a code.
“At this meeting, a diverse cross-section of broadcasters and key stakeholders will meet to consider how the industry can best address current programming-related concerns,” NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts said in a letter of response to Chairman Powell.
In a joint Feb. 17 letter to Mr. Powell, CBS Television Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves and Viacom Television Stations Group President Fredric Reynolds, said they plan to work with their affiliates at the NAB summit to figure out the “best ways for us to work together to ensure that no inappropriate programming reaches viewers’ homes.”
On a related front, Mr. Moonves and Mr. Reynolds said they have directed the CBS Network and the company’s owned-and-operated stations to review their standards and practices for live programming, scripted fare, commercials and promotional spots.
“With respect to CBS and UPN affiliates, we reaffirm here our written contractual commitment (memorialized in all of our affiliation agreements and incorporating the FCC’s rule) to abide by an affiliate station’s right to reject network progams that the station reasonably believes to be unsatisfactory or unsuitable or contrary to the public interest,” the two executives wrote. “In short, our affiliates have the unlimited right to reject such programming for content-based reasons.”
The summit is noteworthy because it promises to bring top network executives and the NAB together.
All of the Big 4 networks dropped their NAB memberships over the past several years in a dispute over the FCC’s national ownership cap, a regulation that the networks wanted to relax but the NAB’s affiliate-dominated board fought to keep in place.
“Our motive is merely to get all broadcasters in a room to discuss an appropriate response on issues surrounding program content,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “However, we’ve always maintained that affiliates and networks are in agreement on 99 percent of all issues.”
On a related front, the House telecommunications subcommittee last week announced it will hold a hearing on broadcast indecency Feb. 26, with representatives of the TV networks and their affiliates invited to testify.
A witness list for this week’s hearing was not released.