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Smut on cable, satellite TV targeted

Clean up act or else, FCC tells providers

WASHINGTON -- Sexed-up and profanity-laced shows on cable and satellite television should be for adult eyes only, and providers must do more to shield children, or they may find themselves facing indecency fines, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Kevin Martin, said yesterday.

''Parents need better and more tools to help them navigate the entertainment waters, particularly on cable and satellite TV," Martin said before the Senate Commerce Committee.

He suggested several options, including a ''family-friendly" tier of channels that would offer shows suitable for children, such as the programs shown on the Nickelodeon.

Martin also said cable and satellite providers could consider letting consumers pay for a bundle of channels that they could choose themselves, an à la carte pricing system.

If providers do not find a way to police smut on television, Martin said, federal decency standards should be considered.

''You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want," he said, ''but why should you have to?"

Martin spoke at an all-day forum on indecency before the committee. The event included more than 20 entertainment industry, government, and public-interest leaders with differing views on whether broadcast networks and cable and satellite companies need more regulation.

Cable and satellite representatives defended their operations and said they have been working to help educate parents on the tools the companies offer to block unwanted programming. They also said à la carte pricing would drive up costs for equipment, customer service, and marketing. Those charges probably would be passed on to subscribers.

Others at the forum, such as the Christian Coalition, urged Congress to increase the fines against indecency on the airwaves from the current $32,500 maximum penalty per violation to $500,000.

Since the Janet Jackson ''breast-exposure" scandal at the Super Bowl almost two years ago, many groups have turned up the pressure on Congress to do more to cleanse the airwaves. But efforts to increase the federal fines for objectionable material have failed.

Even so, the ranking Democrat on the panel, Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, said legislators want to see the industry help protect children from indecent and violent programming. ''If you don't come up with an answer, we will," Inouye said.

Congress is considering several bills that would boost fines.

The chairman, Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, said critics have contended that the bills do not go far enough and that decency standards should be expanded to cover cable and satellite television.

Currently, obscenity and indecency standards apply only to over-the-airwaves broadcasters. Congress would need to give the FCC the authority to police cable and satellite programming.

Kyle McSlarrow, head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said that there is room for self-regulation.

Some legislators also expressed concern about the TV ratings system, and said it was too confusing. But broadcasters said they were not ready to give up on the V-chip and the ratings system it uses.

Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, cautioned lawmakers to let the industry come up with a solution. Otherwise, he said, ''you begin to torment and torture the First Amendment."

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