It’s still a restriction on speech. Congresscritter, Robert Aderholt (R-AL) cleverly turns violating free speech into a “tool for parents to better monitor and control what their children are watching on TV” and at the same time extends over-the-air television indecency regs and adds a la carte programming regs to cable TV. All in the same bill. I wonder if he broke a sweat or got confused by his own doublespeak in the process.

Here’s an excerpt:

While I generally dislike involving government in the regulation of free speech issues such as television broadcasting, there are instances where such intervention is necessary. This is one such instance. Let me make it clear: A parent’s job is to parent. This legislation isn’t a substitute for parental involvement but, rather, a tool for parents to better monitor and control what their children are watching on TV. It offers a common-sense approach that allows parents to parent and limit what their children are exposed to on television.

Currently, consumers face limited choices of truly family programming and, even more frustrating, are forced to pay for many channels they don’t want. For example, in order to get popular educational, news and sports channels, consumers are forced to also get channels that may be objectionable for children such as Spike TV or MTV.

Polls have confirmed parents are concerned their children are being bombarded by obscene, indecent and violent programming. A late 2005 AP/Ipsos Poll showed that 66 percent of Americans say there is too much sex on TV and 68 percent say there is too much violence.

The way the system now works, to get the channels that families want to watch, they’re forced by their cable or satellite provider to also get channels they don’t want. In simple terms, when you go to the store to purchase a shirt, you’re not required to buy a pair of pants as well; or when you go to the grocery store and want to buy an orange, you aren’t required to buy an apple as well. Consumers should have more options, not fewer. This bill is intended to give them those options without limiting what other consumers want to choose.

I’m so glad he “generally dislikes” violating content producers’ First Amendment rights. “Gosh constituents, I didn’t want to do it, but these evil smut purveyors forced my hand.” He claims his bill is just another tool for parents to help them keep an eye on junior. (How many tools do parents need?) Actually, he’s not offering parents a tool. He’s telling them, “Hey, I read polls. It looks like everyone’s upset at what Skinemax sometimes shows, so here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna make the cable industry behave during these hours or on this particular tier of programming. That way, when little Johnny sees an uncovered body part on the cable TV that you, as an adult who knows what’s on cable (caveat emptor, remember?), ordered, it won’t be your fault for not monitoring your children or your TV. Instead, it’s the evil cable industry who’s violating our rules and trying to get your kid hooked on porn.” This is no tool, my friends, it’s an abdication of parental responsibility. We, the congress, will make cable safe for the family. Never mind that “family programming” means different things to different people and that government has no business forcing an industry to conform to busybodies’ tastes. And never mind the traditional rationale for not imposing indecency regs on cable or satellite, alluded to above, you paid to have that service installed (i.e., assumed the risk), whereas over-the-air television is automatically available to anyone with a standard receiver (TV antenna) within range.

Aderholt compounds the absurdity of his bill and column by claiming that cable bundling somehow restricts choice (and involves force!), when the sad fact is a lot of religious and family programming would not otherwise exist without being subsidized by more popular channels. Too, there remains the question of whether the government should have any say whatsoever about how a luxury good (cable is not a necessity) is packaged. Here’s an instructive passage from my friend and former colleague, Adam Thierer:

If enough citizens complained about the bundled laces in shoes or bundled tires on cars or the sports sections bundled in their local newspapers, would that be enough to justify government action to remedy such a non-crisis? The same principle holds for the case of MVPDs and video programming services. Just because a certain number of consumers don’t like a particular business model does not give the government license to upend an industry’s private business arrangements and substitute a grand industrial policy scheme in the name of “consumer choice.”

That’s from his excellent FCC testimony on a la carte regs and themed tier programming and pricing. More good stuff here,here, here and here.

Fortunately, Aderholt is not likely to get much support for his bill. The congressman needs to remember that good intentions don’t matter in public policy. What counts is achieving proper ends by proper means.


One Response to “Call it what you want…”  

  1. 1 emily

    You raise some good points in your post. Here are some facts that you might find interesting. An overwhelming majority of Americans (91%) object to government deciding what they are able to watch on television. When activists talk about protecting children instead of parents—here’s what they’re talking about: sixty-eight percent of the country’s 110 million television-viewing households do not include children under age 18 and households with children have different challenges to face due to the varying ages of kids within each family. Currently, there are 11 million households with children age 6-11, 15 million households with children age 0-5 and 9 million households with children 12-17.

    TV has come a long way from the days of three channels and rabbit ears antennas. Today’s TV audiences are putting to use broadband, DVRs, TV video on demand, iPods and cell phones to greatly expand their choices about what, when, where and how to watch TV. New technology means consumers have more selection than ever and more control than ever over what they see on TV. We all have more choices and parents have more tools to ensure their kids only see what’s right for them. Let’s let parents decide—not government, for all of us.

    There is more information to be found at http://www.TelevisionWatch.org

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