Monday, July 14, 1997

Week of 07/14/1997

TV Media now feels the heat of Congress
- by David Matthews 2

Before we get into this article, let me say that the following rant has been rated "BH" for brutally honest material. It’s also rated "BP" for the occasional bashing of politicians for being what they are.

Now that I’ve said that, let me be the first to welcome the National Broadcast Company to the ranks of the anti-establishment. I’m sure there’s a lot of you who are scratching their heads and wondering why I’ve mentioned this, so let me explain.

There was a lot about this sham politicians have the balls to call the Telecommunications DEREGULATION Act of 1996. There was very little about the "deregulation" part and more about re-regulations. It should have be called the REREGULATION Act because that’s all there was. More freedom? Hardly! And sure we’ve been picking it apart a piece at a time. Cable TV is free to broadcast it’s stuff without content regulations. The Internet is finally free from the Anti-American piece of trash called the Communications Decency Act. But those took lengthy court battles and decisions from the US Supreme Court to do it. There are more to come.

But there was another part of the Telecom Act that affected television - the V-chip.

First, let me say that I support the concept of the V-chip, giving parents the means and the ability to control content for themselves instead of from the government. It’s a great idea whose time has long come. But on the flip-side of this is the realization that once you give the parents that power, government HAS to give up THEIR power to control that content. And you know the federal government doesn’t want to do that!

So the first thing the government does is tell the television networks that they will have to come up with a "voluntary" ratings system. "Voluntary" is a rather nice term for the government. It’s as much voluntary as you or I can "volunteer" to pay our taxes.. at the barrel of a gun.

The network executives got together and came up with a ratings system that they feel they can live with. And they tell Congress in no uncertain terms "This is what we have come up with, and if you don’t like it we’ll nail your ass to the wall in the courts!" No problem, right? The government gets their ratings system, it’s a simple code that anyone can understand, and EVERYONE, even the cable networks and Playboy TV, run them.

But not everyone is happy about the system. Certain parents groups were hoping for a content-based ratings system instead of a vague age-based system. Good idea, except for all the various letters certain groups wanted to put in there. We all would identify with the "V" for violence and "S" for sex and "L" for language. But then they wanted letters for non-explicit sexual language, drug use, non-explicit drug use, cartoon violence, kissing, skimpy clothes, non-explicit but derogatory language, and so on and so forth. You get the picture?

So these parents groups bitched to Congress. And bitched. And bitched. And bitched. And Congress bitched back. Well they did more than just bitch back - they made their usual threats to the TV executives. "Conform!" they screamed. I half-expected them to start saying "Resistance is futile!" or some other Borg-like terminology.

To be honest, I really hoped that the TV execs would stand their ground. After all, they made this big deal about "this is the ratings system we feel comfortable with," and threatening to take Congress to court if they didn’t like it. After all, we in the Internet community just proved that the will of the Congress isn’t all-powerful. Instead, they chickened out.

NBC was the only major network who rebelled against Congress. Of course they haven’t abandoned all the decency standards, and they are still going to use the age-based ratings system currently in place. They simply saw the changes for what they are - nothing more than an effort by Congress to appease the pro-censorship crowd. They cried foul and told Washington to drop dead.

Welcome to the club, boys! So tell me, how does it feel to have Congress breathing their power-hungry breath down YOUR backs for a change? Not fun, is it? Maybe now you won’t be so eager to talk about government-imposed censorship like you did during that CDA fracas.

And how is the government handling this? They are standing smug with that glazed-over Borg look saying "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated into the collective."

Look, I’m not saying that the concept of a ratings system isn’t a great thing, and I’m not certainly a big supporter for the age-based system they came up with. But the way this system has been set up and imposed by the heavy-handed efforts of career politicians and their special interest masters annoys me to no end. The V-chip is still YEARS away from implementation, so we have no idea how this new system will work with the ratings system Congress wants. Congress needs to be reminded of this fact, and their big-money PAC masters need to be reminded OFTEN of it. They need to have this fact slap them in the mouth every morning like bad breath.

Or better yet, we can remind them of the consequences of what will happen WHEN the V-chip takes effect and the digital signal becomes standard: no more "decency standards" for TV programming! No more mandatory educational programming! No more FCC content controls! TV signals will no longer be "intrusive" and "indiscriminate" as the Supreme Court has held for over fifty years. And ONLY THEN will television be finally given the same First Amendment protection given to the Internet and print media! Wonderful for the real people, but horrific to the politicians and special interest groups!

Trust me, with that kind of realization, it’ll have members of Congress up at night screaming bloody murder!

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