According to news reports, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) is planning on trying to force the Senate Commerce Committee to include a controversial cable censorship proposal in a broad-based telecom reform bill the Committee might consider shortly. Along with Republcan Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Rockefeller introduced S. 616, the “Indecent and Gratuitous and Excessively Violent Programming Control Act of 2005.” (I penned a lenghty analysis of this bill in the a PFF paper last year entitled: “Thinking Seriously about Cable & Satellite Censorship: An Informal Analysis of S. 616, The Rockefeller-Hutchison Bill.”)
In a nutshell, the Rockefeller-Hutchison bill proposes to roll the old broadcast industry content control regime onto subcription-based media outlets, namely, cable and satellite television distributors. James Reid, Sen. Rockefeller’s top telecom policy aide, told a crowd at a National Association of Broadcasters conference yesterday that “Sen. Rockefeller plans to offer his bill, in totality, or section-by-section, as amendments to the telecom bill as this goes forward.” If implemented, the bill would:
* Embark on a grand new experiment in regulating “excessively violent” video programming, not just on broadcast television, but also on subscription-based cable and satellite TV;
Supersede voluntary industry ratings schemes and impose content controls on broadcast TV as well as multi-channel cable and satellite operators;
Significantly expand the penalties that traditional broadcast outlets face for indecency violations, and then apply those penalties to cable and satellite;
Impose additional “children’s programming” mandates on traditional broadcasters; and,
Encourage all video programmers to adopt the long-defunct 1951 “Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters,” which tightly limited advertising time and imposed strict restrictions on various types of speech.
As I noted in my paper on this bill, if passed, S. 616 would represent the most significant congressional effort to regulate speech since the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996.
I don’t need to repeat all the ugly details about this proposal here. Just read my paper and see for yourself how bad things could soon get. Luckily, just about every bit of it is unconstitutional and will likely be struck down by the courts in short order. But it’s still outrageous that Congress would seek to expand content controls in such a radical fashion.