Opening Statement of Chairman Ted Stevens
Hearing on Decency
January 19, 2006
Thank you all for coming. Senator Inouye and I have announced a series of hearings, 15 total dealing with issues related to communications. We’re going to have a continuation of the forum we started in the past, back in November. And, at that time we had family groups and broadcasters and cable and satellite and radio and TV artists, video gaming. And, that forum was for the purpose of exploring what we could do to stimulate some voluntary action, because it’s my opinion that we could go for the hard mandates and if we (go) for the hard mandates, that would be in court and it would be years before anything takes place that would affect the demands of the American public and families for some change. So, I’m pleased that the industry has responded. We’re going to hear today about some of that in terms of family-tier offerings. And, I’ll leave it to you gentlemen to announce what those are, but very clearly what we’ve seen, and yesterday I went down and visited the demonstration that’s down in the Hall of States of some of these new technologies, particularly the v-chip and the blocking technology that was there. I think, from my point-of-view, the industry and Jack Valenti personally, are to be commended for their efforts to make it easier for parents to control what their children watch. I think that’s the basic objective right now. And, I understand that we’re going to hear today about a new initiative to educate parents on how they can really govern what their children watch and they have the tools to do that if they’ll just learn how to use them. That initiative, also, we’ll be pleased to hear about today.
There are still people who believe that mandatory legislation may be necessary and we’re here today to hear from different groups about what has happened so far and what further legislation they may be interested in. We’re going to have to work with members of our Committee to develop a bipartisan consensus to get a bill to the floor as soon as we can. But, these hearings help us determine the outlines of legislation that will be acceptable and will advance the concepts that have already been explored, particularly by Senators Brownback and Rockefeller, Wyden and others. I think I can speak for my Co-Chairman and say we felt that with 85 percent of viewers today watching cable or satellite, we should try to explore this voluntary option first The First Amendment does impose some restrictions and constraints on what Congress can mandate. As I said in the beginning, whatever we mandate is going to go to court. Whatever we work out on a consensus basis is going to happen now and I think we ought to find a way to react as quickly as possible to the request of our family-friendly audiences to see if we can accomplish what was accomplished before with the movie industry when they worked out the ratings systems. I know the FCC is working on an a la carte study and I think we should proceed to see how these family tiers work and wait for the FCC to act before we attempt to discuss a la carte legislation. It’s still out there and will have to be discussed sometime, but I do believe these voluntary efforts may result in the kind of choice and the kind of controls that parents have requested and that family groups have demanded.
Chairman Stevens – Q&A with Witnesses
January 19, 2006
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much. Without objection, I hope there will be no objection, we’ll limit ourselves to five minutes each. We’ve got another panel later, so let me start it off. Mr. Valenti, when you look at this problem and I think Mr. Ergen has mentioned the problem about programming and content, what do you say about this group of yours, will it include PTA participation – reach out to all of those who deal with children and the children’s problems in terms of the use of television?
Jack Valenti: Mr. Chairman, as I said, we’re going to reach out for the first time to all advocacy groups, including the PTA and others. The uniqueness of this is that for the first time this kind of unity in which Comcast and Mr. Ergen and Mr. Murdoch’s groups and all the studios and all the television stations and all the cable systems and all of the national networks, as well as the consumer electronics industry – this is the first time we have come together like this and I am absolutely convinced that we’re going to make a real, real impress on the consciousness of American parents to give them more zeal and more ease in doing what they have the power to do. And, by the way, we estimate the cost of this to be somewhere between $250 to $300 million and my own judgment is that’s a very conservative estimate. I’m talking about the cost of designing these messages and the air time cost of putting them on every time that Mr. Ergen puts one of these messages on his Dish Company and Comcast, that costs money. And, so we’re willing to put up these funds and spend the money that’s a requisite to doing this job.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much. Mr. Ergen, on January 31st we will hold a hearing on video content and we’ll take up your challenge to discuss with programmers what they will do to assist in making sure that we meet this demand for American families. And, Mr. Cohen, I want you to know that that demonstration that you put on last evening for the staff and for me and is available to every Member, I think is very good. I’ve seen some of the things on your Comcast broadcast, the spots that you’re already running and I’ve got to tell you being involved in terms of the totality of that presentation yesterday, I know a lot more about it now than I did looking at the spots. And, I’m not criticizing the spots, you can only do so much in a 30 to 45 second spot, but I do think this total concept now of the education program to educate American families on what’s there now is very important, extremely important. I did not know that all of that was available on the TVs right in my own home. And, in answer to my friend from New Jersey, I’ve got to say I’m blessed with some spouses of my children, they are really getting the family control they need. I’ve told people before how I, as a father tried to do it, I just said no television in our house. And, about a month later, the mayor asked me what in the hell my kids were doing in his house all afternoon. We understood the problem and bought a television, so it is a problem, but this afternoon’s hearing will be on the problems of the Internet and children’s viewing. Last week I was told the average child in grade school spends four hours a day on a computer and the problems that are coming now in terms of streaming of information, particularly pornography over that computer are overwhelming. So, this problem, I hope we can get it solved voluntarily. That other one is an enormous problem to deal with and I invite people to be sure to be here this afternoon.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much, Mr. McIntyre. As I said, I viewed that v-chip presentation of the industry last night. You’re on the advisory board. Are you satisfied with that presentation that it’s going to give additional tools to the American family?
Mr. McIntyre: I’m hopeful as I look back over my notes here for what the presentation was. You know, with the exception of Mr. Valenti’s proposal that the ratings will be shown coming out of commercial break, it was my understanding that most of this stuff was supposed to be happening 10 years ago when the ratings agreement was originally made.
Chairman Stevens: It’s been on the system. It’s been in the television, but it’s not been explained how to use it. Last night I saw a detailed explanation of how to use it, how effective it is. You say you’re on the advisory board for that group, for the v-chip?
Mr. McIntyre: I’m on the oversight monitoring board, yes sir.
Chairman Stevens: Monitoring board. Well, what do you think? Have you seen the presentation they gave us last night?
Mr. McIntyre: We have not. We have not, the monitoring board meets roughly about twice a year and mostly to my experience speaks really only to addressing the individual promotion campaigns of a given network.
Chairman Stevens: Jack, can we invite him down to look at that this afternoon?
Jack Valenti: Absolutely.
Chairman Stevens: Let me finish if I may, on the violence, we agree with you, but, you know, I’m going to go to the Caps game tonight and I’ve got a hockey puck son and three hockey puck grandchildren, grandsons. They see violence in sports. How does that affect the children?
Mr. McIntyre: It really depends on the individual child and on the parents. I would probably bet that you’re a pretty good grandparent and your children are good parents in that your children and your grandchildren are not necessarily having problems with bullying, or are violence-prone necessarily. The way the rating system should be set-up is to be able to allow for parents to make decisions based on what their individual children are going through. And, so, if I have a child and he is prone to bullying than I would have second some thoughts about taking him into environments where violence may be a part of that regularly.
Chairman Stevens: Well, one of the things they see is, they see a person who goes too far put into the penalty box, don’t they?
Mr. McIntyre: Well, according to the NHL, I think that’s the rule, yes sir.
Chairman Stevens: My grandsons get there quite often, I think. Mr. Rosenburg, has anything been done in the industry to discourage actors from putting indecency out in terms of programs that are related to children?
Mr. Rosenberg: Well, in all our contracts, if we contract to do a series, there is a morals clause.
Chairman Stevens: Well, Harry Potter, you know, sort of, they have things to scare people you know, but they don’t really show real violence, right?
Mr. Rosenberg: Right.
Chairman Stevens: Now, is there some industry approach? Do actors question the impact of what they’re doing on children?
Mr. Rosenberg: You know, I haven’t done much children’s programming. Actors questions what they’re doing all the time and if something is offensive to me, I don’t hesitate to question. I mean we all have that right, but we are also hired hands. You know, we don’t write the shows and we don’t broadcast them. And, actors, I suppose you’re given a script and it has something that might be objectionable. Either it’s violent or there’s scatological language, I guess, you know, your job is on the line, you decide to say the words that are in that script or not, or do the actions that are in that script or not. It’s up to the individual actor, I suppose. But, we do have moral clauses in our contracts which prevent us from engaging in indecent behavior.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you. Mr. Reese, we have been wrestling with the problem of, it comes from the fact that, past Supreme Court decisions appear to give us a greater power in terms of over-the-air broadcasters than those who use satellite or cable. Now, you make the point, and I’ve made it too, that the time those decisions were made about 10 to 12 percent of people got their programming over cable. Now, satellite and cable is above 80 percent. Even most of the programs that the broadcasters provide are carried through the cable system under our must-carry concept, which currently is under challenge. Now, what do you tell parents about the role of broadcasters in this argument right now? There’s a dichotomy here that a program coming over over-the-air broadcasting if received through a system that was through cable would not be subject to regulation, but if it was out there and received in rural American where there is no cable, it would be subject to regulation. Now, what does industry think about this situation right now?
Mr. Reese: Well, I felt like I had a good source when I quoted you, Senator, from your November 29th comments.
Chairman Stevens: That pleased me, but I’m not sure it pleased my colleagues up here at all.
Mr. Reese: The underpinning of the Pacifica Decision seems to really not be valid anymore. Any sort of pervasiveness argument that could have been made in the 70s about broadcasting vis-à-vis cable at that time and at least at best a fledgling satellite industry, just doesn’t work anymore. And, Americans don’t make a distinction about where the product comes from. And, the broadcaster who does something that is deemed indecent under the less than perfect regulatory system we have now is the ones that is subject to the fine because it went out over-the-air even if less than 10 percent of the audience happened to see it through an antenna in their home.
Chairman Stevens: My last just a comment to you, all of you, and staff has pointed this out. We had a discussion about this in my family this weekend about the TV Guide and the programming that’s shown on the screen, whether it’s cable or satellite, or over-the-air. The presentations of programming that’s available do not show ratings and I’m informed now even, as far the movies, the newspapers are not showing ratings. I think that’s missing here somehow. When the public looks at a presentation of what they can look at, why shouldn’t they see the ratings? Why shouldn’t the ratings be available through these programs that come, like TV Guide, children look at those, and parents look at those. Why shouldn’t they find out how those programs are rated, Mr. Franks?
Mr. Franks: Well, two things, Senator. One, Jack can recount these stories better than I, but we have worked for years to try and persuade the newspapers, the ratings are made available to newspapers and to the news media several weeks in advance, before the program airs. Very few newspapers or other listing services actually carry the ratings for their own economic reasons, having to do with their own space limitations. I would commend USA Today, for example, if you look at that back page, where they have what’s on tonight, it has extensive v-chip rating information.
Chairman Stevens: That’s one exception, yes.
Mr. Franks: As for ourselves, you know, our own promotions, if we are promoting a show that is one tonight or on tomorrow night, we put the rating into the promotion.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I think that’s something we ought to look at. The newspapers certainly are critical of what’s going on and yet they’re not helping at all to provide the solutions to the American family.
Mr. Franks: The same thought has occurred to us, Senator. And, can I just refer to one thing that Mr. McIntyre raised? He has actually been a very constructive force in this debate and so I don’t want to suggest that I am criticizing him in any way, but one of the things he was arguing for is a more detailed rating system to give parents more information. And, that is not a bad idea, but one of the things that we also discussed at some length on the 29th of November is that the current rating system is too complex and I think part of what we have tried to do is to strike a balance between giving parents as much information as we can get to them without overwhelming them or it being so complex that they don’t understand it or can’t figure it out. And, it’s a difficult balance to strike and it just goes to the struggle we’re having to try and get this right and it’s not easy.
Chairman Stevens: Mr. McIntyre, we don’t have a lot of time, but you ought to have a right to answer that.
Mr. McIntyre: Thank you, Senator. I appreciate that. We hear this a lot and we struggle with the ratings system being too complicated. In a world where, you know, families program their TiVOs, where they now download videos on their cell phones, where individuals are fluent on their blackberries probably even as we speak, we’re told that, you know, S, V, and L as attached to the ratings system is too complicated. We don’t buy that. We understand that it is more complicated than one, two, three. But, we think with the proper promotion, the proper advertising, with the help of the newspapers, as you mentioned, it can be easily digestible and usable by the majority of the American public.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I hope you do go with Mr. Valenti and see this. I was surprised at the detail that was there. I was also surprised that if you are a parent and you black out all unrated programs, what you block out. You block out emergency notices. You black out sports. You block out a lot of things, which puts a lot more burden on the parent to go back and say, but you have the tools, you can watch this news program, you can watch that sports program, but it is a more difficult thing to do because there are so many programs that are not rated. But, I would urge you to go take a look at it.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
Today, we continue the discussion on broadcast decency. We have seen some important developments since our November 29th Forum, but we still have work to do. We all appreciate the efforts that Jack Valenti and Kyle McSlarrow have undertaken to address how best to protect our families from viewing indecent and violent materials on TV.
We have a difficult task ahead of us, but one that must succeed in many areas -- indecency, violent content and sanctions.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s most recent study, released in November, provided further evidence that racy TV programming remains increasingly prolific. The networks have little incentive to reverse this trend, as it continues to attract viewers and market share.
At a minimum, we hope to provide parents with the information and tools to control the flood of materials they can view at home. We also have a number of legislative proposals before the Committee that would raise fines and impose other remedies.
While indecent content continues to receive the lion’s share of attention, violent content is an equal concern. Violent content has proven to have a strong, negative, anti-social effect on young viewers, so it is essential that we address TV violence as well. Senator Rockefeller’s and Senator Hutchison’s legislation wisely emphasizes this issue, and I am an enthusiastic co-sponsor of their bill. I hope that the Committee will consider their proposal in the near future.
I thank our witnesses for their continued participation in this effort.
Witness Panel 1
Mr Jack ValentiFormer Chairman and CEOMotion Picture Association of America
Mr. Charles W. ErgenChairman and Chief Executive OfficerEchoStar Communications Corporation
Mr. David CohenExecutive Vice PresidentComcast Corporation
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Bruce ReeseJoint Board ChairmanNational Association of Broadcasters
Mr. L. Brent Bozell IIIPresidentParents Television Counsel
Mr. Martin FranksExecutive Vice PresidentCBS
Mr. Alan RosenbergPresidentScreen Actors Guild
Mr. Jeff J. McIntyreSenior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, Public Policy OfficeAmerican Psychological Association