More under the radar: Censorship of cable, Internet

From Doug Ireland of LA Weekly:
Just as a TIME magazine poll out this week shows Americans want more TV censorship, a brace of Republican initiatives threatens to extend federal control of what you can see and hear and read to both cable TV and the Internet. Hollywood better wake up. Remember the Hays Office, which imposed family-values censorship on the movies in the 1920s — a ham-fisted squelching of “indecency” that cramped and crippled scriptwriters and moviemakers for decades thereafter? Well, what one of the most powerful Republicans in the U.S. Senate is now talking about sounds very much like the same thing, except now it’s about cable TV and the Net. The latest assault on cable TV’s creative freedom comes from octogenarian Republican Senator Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Stevens and his committee are considering a censorious House-passed “indecency” bill regulating radio and TV broadcasters — legislation cooked up in the wake of the furor over Janet Jackson’s boob flash during the Super Bowl. And now, the weighty senator wants to extend its provisions — including a draconian new government-imposed ratings system. With an ironclad Republican Senate majority, Stevens usually gets what he wants. The effect on cable-TV programming would be enormous...From the ACLU to libertarian conservatives, predictions of what the Stevens proposals mean are dire. “I think Stevens is probably laying the groundwork for another assault on speech online,” Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the libertarian, free-market Progress & Freedom Foundation, told CNET, the online magazine about the Internet. “He’s obviously pointing the way to other members of Congress, saying that if they want to control the media, they have to start at cable and satellite first, and then target the Internet . . . This foreshadows the coming debate we’ll have over IP-enabled services in the video space.” The already-passed House bill calls for sharply increased new fines for violators — the whopping $1.18 million FCC fine imposed on the Fox network for airing a wild guys’ night out on Married by America would be doubled under the new law. These new “indecency” regs — if extended to cable TV and the Net, as the Republican powerhouse senator intends to make happen — would mean, for example, that HBO’s Angels in America, which swept the Emmys, would most likely never have been aired in the unadulterated version that the distinguished playwright Tony Kushner wrote. And the host of cable-TV shows with less literary merit but a higher “smut” content would certainly come under federal attack. So would song lyrics, and the many cable broadcasts of rock concerts. Cable TV has up until now been mercifully free from the arbitrary Savonarolas of the broadcast nets’ infamous “standards and practices” departments, which exact oh-so-cautious compliance with FCC regs. But, threatened with huge fines and the opprobrium of being labeled “indecent” by the federal government, cable execs with their eye on the bottom line of profit won’t risk being dropped by cable operators in the American heartland in a country drowning in religion-driven bowdlerization...Credit where credit is due: The stories about both these new censorship drives were broken by CNET’s Washington bureau chief, Declan McCullagh, who for a decade has chronicled threats to Internet freedom on his invaluable Politechbot.com (for “Politics and Technology”) Web site — which you can check out for regular updates on both the Stevens- and FEC-proposed crackdowns on untrammeled free speech.


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