FCC urges US broadcasters to create voluntary code

MUMBAI: The ripples in the aftermath of the Janet Jackson super bowl incident are still being felt in the US broadcast industry. A couple of days ago Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Michael Powell urged broadcasters to create a voluntary code of conduct.

He was speaking at the National Association of broadcasters (NAB) summit on responsible programming. He said that competitive pressures much more than media consolidation were the reasons for more programming that tested the limits of indecency and violence. "As audience continues to fragment and the number of choices multiplies, it is harder and harder to grab and hold a viewer or listener."

He issued a warning saying that it would not be intelligent for groups to ask the FCC to make a rule to create more clarity as to what was prohibited. "I want to warn you that this is unwise. You do not want to ask the government to write a "Red Book" of Dos and Don'ts. I understand the complaint about knowing where the line is, but heavier government entanglement through a "Dirty Conduct Code" will not only chill speech, it may deep freeze it. It might create an ice age that would last a very long time."

Talking about the challenges facing the US broadcast industry he mentioned the ongoing debate about media ownership. " In addition, the competitive pressures from other media sources continue to dramatically fragment audiences. Competition continues to grow stronger from cable and satellite, but we are also seeing the use of advanced technology to create many other platforms that folks turn to for entertainment, information and news. The rise of satellite radio, the Internet, video gaming and, of course, TiVo with its ever-so-popular 30-second skip feature all have combined to present sharp threats to traditional broadcasting."

Seeking to provide perspective on why the Super Bowl incident set off a chain reaction he said, "The debate it unleashed is not really about a bare breast. What really upset people was the shock and amazement that such material would appear on that programme at that time, without warning, and without any reasonable expectation that they would see such a thing.

"In other words, the debate is not best understood as one about what you can do or cannot do on radio or television. Rather, it is more about whether consumers can rely on reasonable expectations about the range of what they will see on a given programme at a given time."

FCC commissioner Michael Copps also dwelt on the importance of a voluntary code. He said, " I believe the industry could come together and craft a new code, perfectly able to pass court muster, and one that would serve the needs of businesses as well as those of concerned families. Also broadcasters could commit to family hours during prime time. More diversity in programme development and programme sourcing could also help.

"This would mean more independently-produced programs. And you need to include in your deliberations what public interest standards you think appropriate for the new world of multi-casting that digital television is already beginning to bring us."

Talking about the reasons for the rise in indecency in addition to the market pressures he said that the regulatory commission charged with keeping this race from happening abdicated its enforcement responsibilities and thus created a climate wherein indecency could flourish. "If the agency charged with putting the brakes on has no credibility with those who are programming indecency-if it commands no respect on the issue because it runs away from the issue-is it any wonder that the envelope gets pushed farther and farther out?"

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