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Debating Indecency: Who Speaks for Me?



I've been thinking a lot about indecency and Harry Potter.

(Martin with former MPAA head Jack Valenti at Senate hearing Tuesday)

Indecency is back in the news, thanks to new FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who told a Congressional committee Tuesday that the cable industry needs to offer customers ways to choose which standard cable channels they will access, or the commission may attempt to regulate cable and satellite TV indecency the way they regulate broadcasters.

Such a challenge seems an empty threat. Cable providers swear the economics of their business require spreading costs over all non-premium channels -- so those who buy cable for Disney, CNN or ESPN can help pay for the Golf Channel or Black Entertainment Television as well. And since consumers can block access to individual cable or satellite channels within their own home, it seems the FCC would stand on shaky legal ground trying to regulate content nationwide to shield children.

Televangelists are opposing Martin's notion because they fear their channels would also go away under such a system. The advocacy group TV Watch, which seeks to limit government control of broadcasting, released a survey Monday which found -- surprise! -- that only 9 percent of parents want government to increase control of network TV and 91 percent of parents use some tools to control their children's TV viewing. The Senate is considering various forms of indencency legislation, just as the FCC is preparing to rule on 40 to 50 indecency complaints from earlier this year.

And I'm still wondering why its taken until less than a year before the 2006 midterm elections before Republican legislators and a Republican FCC chairman would bring up indecency again.

Here's where Potter comes in: While watching the latest film with my kids, I knew we would be seeing something darker. But I wasn't prepared to see one character cut his own hand off and a teen classmate of Harry's killed during the action. If even Harry Potter movies bow to such creeping violent content, I thought, what hope is there for other mainstream entertainment?

I'm hardly a prude, but I am a father of four concerned about the coarsening state of mainstream entertainment. And every advocate in the current public debate on this issue -- from Republican legislators courting conservative votes to strident advocacy groups seking more political power -- seems to have other, practical reasons for advocating content crackdowns which have nothing to do with the actual issue.

So when will we get an honest broker in this debate -- someone who might actually help address parents' concerns without totally trampling the First Amendment? And can a parent criticize some risque content in media without turning into a tool for some culture warrior's political agenda?

Right now, the odds of finding that kind of leadership on this issue seems likely as stumbling on Potter's legendary goblet of fire.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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