Yesterday I attended a meeting with Kevin Martin, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission to talk about media and family issues. It was arranged by the Parents Television Council, which has been very active on issues of non-family-friendly content and especially on “cable choice,” unbundling of cable channels so that consumers can buy only the channels they want.
Chairman Martin spoke frankly to us about his views and his frustrations. He, too, believes that consumers should not be forced to pay for channels they do not want to watch. But there is so much money at stake that industry is pouring a lot of money into opposition and it is not likely that legislative proposals will get much support. He has some hope that at the local level, as communities select their cable providers, they may be able to insist on unbundling. The Chairman also looks to local communities to oppose the licenses of broadcast stations that do not meet their commitment to the public interest. He pointed out that local complaints led to the largest fine in the Commission’s history, $24 million paid by Univision for claiming that it had three hours of children’s programming when what they were airing was a Spanish language soap opera. He said that what he found even more outrageous was something over which the FCC had no authority. “Sesame Street,” originally created with government funding and broadcast at no charge over PBS stations, will be moving to cable on an exclusive basis when television goes all-digital next year. This also slows down the creation of an all-children’s public television channel because they will not have access to the content. The Chairman feels strongly that programming created with public money should not be able to sell exclusive rights to channels that are not available to everyone.
PTC’s Tim Winter commented on the meeting and the issues he finds important.
PTC has pioneered activism that holds advertisers accountable for the programs they sponsor, and their website has a lot of very useful informtation about television programs and policy initiatives.