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Martin Urges Cable Self-Regulation on Indecency

Apr 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Kevin Martin, in his first public appearance before a cable TV audience since being named chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, urged the industry Tuesday to self-regulate and provide consumers and parents with as many ways as possible to control viewing by children. He said that is the best way to diminish the possibility that indecency regulations that apply to over-the-air broadcasting will be extended to cable.

In any case, he said at a well-attended general session on the final day of the National Show in San Francisco, the ultimate decision on whether to regulate cable content will be made by Congress. He said the FCC’s job would then be to enforce the rules.

Mr. Martin was interviewed by Fox News Channel’s Stuart Varney, who opened his questioning by asking for a definition of indecency. While noting there is a legal definition, the chairman did not address the question directly. Instead, he noted that the commission now gets considerably more complaints than it did only a few years ago. “I think you’re seeing an environment where consumers and parents are increasingly concerned,” Mr. Martin said.

Asked whether he would try to use the FCC to push the communications industry in a specific direction, Mr. Martin said that would be impossible. He said it would be “like herding cats.” However, he did say the FCC’s job is to set up as level a playing field as possible. “The commission’s job,” he said, “is to create rules so everyone can compete fairly.”

Mr. Martin called his immediate predecessor, Michael Powell, “a great visionary in his view of technology and how it was changing these industries.”

In a short press conference with a gaggle of reporters backstage at the Moscone Center immediately after his appearance, Mr. Martin said that he hopes the industry will continue to create tools and schemes that give consumers and parents choice and control. He mentioned technology that allows parents to block channels and the use of programming tiers to define content, including creating family-friendly tiers. He also said he favors having networks define blocks of broadcast time that offer family-friendly fare.

Asked about his past votes in favor of digital must-carry of new broadcast channels on cable systems, Mr. Martin sidestepped the issue. He said the issue is not currently before the commission and added that if it is brought up again he will decide then on how he will respond.