Monday, April 29, 1996

Week of 04/29/1996

A Time and a Place…
Indecency standards are old, and soon invalid.
-by David Matthews 2

In the battle to protect the Freedom of Speech, it seems the US Supreme Court has erred on the side of government restrictions rather than on personal responsibility.

In a recent decision, the highest court in the nation left intact the ruling of an Appeals Court that reaffirmed the Federal Communications Commission's authority to restrict programming they consider to be indecent. The rationality given by the Appeals Court and thus confirmed by the Supreme Court was that the government has a "compelling interest in protecting children." That has been the argument ever since the federal government decided to regulate broadcast content.

And they've had a valid reason. Not necessarily a right or wrong reason, but a valid one nonetheless. Up until recent times, television and radio broadcasts have been broadcasting openly, with only the appropriate receiver needed to view or listen to the programs. There was no way for parents to control the content, thus the government felt it was their job to do so.

But then along came cable television, and soon the private industry was providing more efficient means to control content. Cable boxes soon were equipped with the means to lock out certain channels. Now, many television sets and VCRs have the means to "remove" channels from their listings. The Digital Satellite Service, or DSS, which made it's debut last year now provides the means to not only lock out and remove certain channels, but also to set a ratings limit on broadcasts and a spending limit on pay-per-view channels. This means parents using the DSS systems can set a rating limit of PG and the system will automatically block out all programs above that listing. And the newly announced digital video disc (DVD) system promises to provide even more of those safeguards to personal video that DSS provides to satellite services, by allowing parents to restrict content on the disc.

And while Congress debated about how to restrict content on the Internet, private industry has already come forth with numerous programs to allow parents to do just that. Programs with names like "Net Nanny," "Cyber Patrol," "SurfWatch," and "Cyber Sitter." And more such programs will soon be available. These companies did not wait for Congress to pass laws.

So the question is, how long before Washington gets the message that sometimes private initiative can outdo even the best government intentions? Or that personal responsibility, not social control, is the real foundation of this country?

Perhaps they will never get the message. In listening to the debate on the final Telecommunications bill, many representatives voiced their concerns over the needless regulations the bill will place on computer services like the Internet and broadcast media. Yet despite their objections, they neither proposed any changes to make the bill that "perfect" bill they wished it would be, nor did they urge to remove the bill altogether and start from scratch. Instead they simply voted for the bill in utter hypocrisy to their earlier reservations.

Since the late 1970's the Republican Party has been campaigning on some simple messages. They wanted to get "big government out of our lives" and to "let the marketplace decide." But in passing the telecommunications bill, they betrayed their own political messages for the wailing of special interest groups like the Christian Coalition.

Those who supported the GOP for such measures should realize that the GOP LIED to the American people. They should not be trusted in the 96 elections, and should be rewarded for their hypocrisy by being voted out in favor of those who will get government out of people's lives instead of pretending to do so.

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