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Statement of The Media Institute Regarding "Family Programming Forum" Speech By FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin At NATPE Annual Conference, Jan. 22, 2003

FOR RELEASE: January 28, 2003

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute


Washington, January 28, 2003 - FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin has challenged broadcasters to reinstate the Family Viewing Hour, and cable and DBS operators to offer a family-friendly programming package as an expanded tier.

While Commissioner Martin's intentions are no doubt noble, his proposals give us pause.

First, he correctly notes that "the FCC does not have express statutory authority governing family-friendly programming." But he then states that "at a minimum," the FCC needs to "use the bully pulpit to persuade broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite providers to re-think their approach to family-friendly programming."

History shows that such pronouncements from the FCC's "bully pulpit" can have a chilling effect on FCC licensees, who are fearful of running afoul of commissioners' wishes. This "forced voluntarism" can easily become a method of regulating without regulation, as those both inside and outside the Commission (including former commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth) have warned.

Second, such "voluntary" policies have a way of becoming actual regulatory or statutory requirements in time. One need look no further than the V-chip to see how a voluntary effort by broadcasters and cablecasters to address the issue of violent programming to children culminated in a legislative mandate. The prospect of having voluntary policies and practices turned into law is a disincentive for industries to undertake voluntary action in the first place.

Also, we are surprised that Commissioner Martin refers to "numerous studies that have documented the harm that such programming - particularly violent television - can have on young people." We would be curious to know which studies the commissioner is citing. The impressive report done in 2000 by Professor Jonathan Freedman ("Media Violence and Aggression: A Review of the Research"), and even the FTC report released the same year in re the marketing of violent entertainment to children, cast substantial doubt on the literature that is said to demonstrate a causal link between TV viewing and aggression in children.

Finally, Commissioner Martin speculates about a possible link between "the increase in coarse television programming" and media concentration. This is nothing but speculation offered without any supporting evidence, and as such does nothing to further informed debate on either issue.

Given all of the above concerns, we urge Commissioner Martin to tread more cautiously when discussing family-friendly programming, over which, as he himself admits, the FCC has no statutory authority.