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NAB Forms Programming Task Force

NAB's Executive Committee has decided to form a Task Force on Responsible Programming following Wednesday's all-industry programming summit on indecency. The Task Force will review a number of options, including the possible implementation of an NAB Code of Conduct.

The first meeting of the task force will be in Las Vegas in connection with NAB2004.
NAB President/CEO Eddie Fritts said broadcasters "are committed to a plan of voluntary action" to handle the issue of indecency.

"Given the serious First Amendment concerns surrounding issues related to program content, it is our strong belief that voluntary industry initiatives are far preferable to government regulation," Fritts said.

Fritts called the trade association's Wednesday summit on responsible programming "historic" and "constructive." He told reporters, who were not allowed in the room for the discussions, that the talks were not all one-way criticism of broadcasters and that attendees offered several ideas to combat indecency.

Several broadcasters and panelists said cable and satellite TV and radio should be included in the debate, Fritts said, adding that NAB has had recent discussions with the cable industry about this issue.

Among ideas discussed were a voluntary programming code, zero tolerance policies and lists of best practices, he said. These options and others were to be forwarded to the NAB executive committee for discussions at the spring show.

Asked about the likelihood of bringing back the programming code, NAB Legal EVP Marsha MacBride said, "We have options we didn't have in the 1970s when the old code was struck down by the court, such as the V-Chip."

She said discussion of the earlier code is a starting point and does not necessarily indicate expectations it may be revived in some form.

The NAB programming code was eliminated in the early 1980s after a Justice Department lawsuit over antitrust issues.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell "strongly encouraged" broadcasters to craft a new voluntary programming code. "Setting your own standards is your best defense" against indecency charges, he said.

As for broadcasters who've called for clear indecency guidelines from the agency, Powell said that would be unwise. Infinity President/Co-COO Mel Karmazin has called the commission's definition of indecency vague.

Powell said at the summit, "You do not want the government to write a 'Red Book' of Dos and Don'ts." Heavier government involvement in a so-called "Dirty Conduct Code" will not only chill speech, he said. "It may deep-freeze it."

The debate about media ownership has had a spillover effect on the indecency issue, he said, one he predicted broadcasters would feel for a long time. This is happening as traditional broadcasting faces competition from "the rise of satellite radio, the Internet, video gaming, and of course, TiVo."

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps challenged stations to eliminate indecent programming from the airwaves and "put the FCC on the enforcement sidelines."

"Anyone in industry or at the commission who thinks they can 'politick' this problem for a few months and it will magically disappear needs to crawl out of his or her cocoon."

Sen. Sam Brownback, (R-KS), believes the Senate will vote on his broadcast indecency bill soon. His bill would increase fines for broadcast indecency dramatically, fine on-air talent for indecency and impose a "three strikes and you're out" provision, culminating in license revocation. It also includes a "shot clock" to ensure that FCC enforcement decisions are made in a timely way.