Barton Wants to Delay Indecency Legislation for Cable, Satellite

Apr 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In what could be a major break for cable TV, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Tuesday he wants to put off until at least next year consideration of any legislation that would subject cable and satellite TV to indecency regulation.

Over the past couple of months, Rep. Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, have been threatening to back measures that would subject cable and satellite to the same sort of indecency prohibitions that broadcasters currently face. Cable and satellite are currently exempt from indecency regulation.

At a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Rep. Barton said he wants Congress to focus first on an indecency bill that addresses over-the-air broadcasting only. That bill, approved by a 389-38 vote in the House in February, would increase fines for off-color broadcasting from $32,500 to $500,000. It focuses exclusively on broadcasting, continuing to exempt cable and satellite programming.

The prospects of cable and satellite avoiding indecency regulation are expected to rise dramatically if they aren’t included in the broadcast bill, because most of the legislative momentum on the issue is expected to dissipate with the broadcast bill’s passage.

But Rep. Barton told TelevisionWeek that including cable and satellite in the broadcast bill could “complicate” its prospects.

“We shouldn’t let the issue of cable and satellite bog down the over-the-air decency issue,” Rep. Barton said.

He also said the cable industry is currently working on a plan to address congressional indecency concerns voluntarily.

“If that’s not sufficient, [Congress can] come back to that at another time,” Rep. Barton said.

Rep. Barton also said cable was under no deadline to report on its voluntary plan to Congress but that he expected it “in the near future.”