Valenti Hits TV Censors’ Pause Button

Apr 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The amazing thing about the TV industry’s new effort to promote the v-chip and other blocking technologies as an antidote to pending legislation to crack down on indecent programming is that it came together in the first place, industry officials said last week.

The initiative also is testament to the enduring persuasive powers of Jack Valenti, 84, the former chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, who is scheduled to promote the industry’s effort as a featured speaker April 24 during the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

“Jack is still the only guy who can get these otherwise hypercompetitive, fractious and sometimes disagreeable companies to sit down at the table for the common good,” said Marty Franks, executive VP of planning, policy and government relations for CBS Corp.

Added Preston Padden, The Walt Disney Co.’s executive VP of worldwide government relations: “[Mr. Valenti] has got a longer and deeper history with both the issue and the key players on the Hill than anyone in Washington.”

In an interview last week Mr. Valenti said the gospel he plans to share with the NAB faithful is that voluntary industry educational outreach, not governmental intervention, is the answer to concerns about TV program content.

“What we’re doing is trying to explain to parents that right now they have all the power in the world to control every hour of programming in their homes, and most parents don’t understand that,” Mr. Valenti said.

“This is the first time the entire visual industry has ever come together under one canopy, all joining hands and arms,” he added. “I wouldn’t get involved in it if I didn’t think that this was the way to go.”

The spots for the campaign, being developed by the Ad Council and McCann Erickson, aren’t expected to roll out on TV stations, cable TV and satellite system operations before June. But already, just the industry’s willingness to work on the initiative appears to be bearing fruit on Capitol Hill.

On a couple of occasions recently Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who asked Mr. Valenti to organize the industry educational effort, said legislation to crack down on indecent programming on television should be put on hold to give the industry-backed efforts time to prove themselves in the marketplace.

“It is my hope that members of Congress … will permit that campaign to run for a while to determine whether this education of the public really will result in a better understanding of how to protect children without legislation,” Sen. Stevens said in a March 21 speech to the trade group Comptel.

PTC Still on the Case

Despite the industry’s plans, the watchdog Parents Television Council-the group that has stirred up much of the fuss about off-color TV programming-will continue lobbying for legislation to dramatically raise the cap on Federal Communications Commission indecency fines for broadcasters.

“I would certainly hope that Sen. Stevens hears the voice of the people who want the FCC to have the tools it needs to adequately enforce the law,” said Dan Isett, PTC’s director of corporate and government affairs.

Backers of the new industry campaign, which industry representatives say can be valued at up to $300 million over a year and a half, include the Big 4 TV networks, DirecTV, EchoStar, the Ad Council, MPAA, NAB, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, Viacom and Time Warner.