Federal Regulation of Cable Decency Unlikely

The president of a media watchdog group believes it is likely that an edited version of the Home Box Office original television show The Sopranos, which starts airing next month on the A&E network, will push the decency limits of what's already being shown on cable. However, he doubts attempts to regulate both cable and broadcast TV will succeed.

Robert Peters of Morality in Media says basic cable already pushes the decency envelope far past broadcast networks, for instance by airing shows like HBO's long-running series Sex in the City on TBS. Now that A&E plans to pick up another controversial HBO-produced show, he notes, "my expectation would be that The Sopranos will go further than the Sex and the City edited version."

When it comes to the debate over indecency in cable programming, Peters thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually come into play. Still, he is doubtful that even a public outcry would ever result in regulation of cable.

In fact, the pro-family media analyst contends, the high court has probably only continued to let the Federal Communications Commission regulate broadcast network indecency because of a precedent dating back to 1927. "But there have been cases," he points out, "certainly at lower federal courts, that have struck down legislation attempting to regulate indecency on cable."

Although Peters acknowledges that he does not know what the Supreme Court would do, he believes it is "a very good possibility" that the justices would strike down a law attempting to regulate indecency on cable. He feels that would almost certainly be the case if such regulation attempts went beyond basic cable.

"If I were recommending something to Congress," the Morality in Media spokesman comments, "I would not recommend trying to regulate indecency on channels like Showtime and HBO." Because of the high probability of such laws being struck down in court, he thinks the likeliest eventual solution will be the cable and satellite industries providing their customers with standardized basic packages of a la carte channel selections.

According to Peters, that would be the best solution, and it is one also favored by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, as well as a number of parent and pro-family advocacy groups. Concerned Women for America (CWA) is one such group that has been voicing strong support for "cable choice" — a system that would allow users to customize their subscriptions rather than paying for high-priced, pre-packaged cable bundles.

Lanier Swann, CWA's director of government relations, says her organization applauds Martin for his leadership in "putting consumers ahead of profit" and for "making every-day American concerns a priority." Cable choice, she insists, is "the only option that gives consumers the freedom they deserve."

Swann says CWA hopes cable providers will "relinquish their own micromanaged monopoly" and make service to their customers their top priority. She notes that 80 percent of Americans support cable choice.

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