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Press Release

October 31, 2007

PTC Testifies That Media Consolidation Helps Destroy Community Standards of Decency

Consolidation Also Creates Self-Serving Media That Seek to Protect Interests of Corporate Parents Rather Than the Public


WASHINGTON, DC (October 31, 2007) -- The Parents Television Council™ testified at the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) hearing on localism today, saying that media consolidation helps destroy the concept of community standards of decency and has created an anti-competitive, anti-family business model employed throughout the cable television industry.  Excerpts from the statement given by Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs for the PTC, at the hearing are found below:


“On the surface, there would seem to be little connection between our mission and the media ownership issues that bring us together today, but indeed there is no question that the consolidation of media outlets has led to a coarsening of television content, a destruction of the concept of community standards of decency, an unresponsive, irresponsible news media that routinely ignores news unfavorable to its parent corporation, and a cable television industry that effectively functions as a cartel, forcing consumers and families to buy enormous amounts of unwanted programming just to get access to the family programming they actually want.


“Media consolidation leads to disproportionate influence over programming decisions by executives often thousands of miles away.  In fact, the Center for Creative Voices in Media – a group the PTC has debated decency issues with many times – published a report chronicling how 96% of radio indecency fines have been levied against stations belonging to the four largest ownership groups, but those groups own only 12% of all radio stations.  Conversely, the 88 percent of the nation’s radio stations not owned by these four station groups, with a combined national audience share of 51 percent, were responsible for just four percent of FCC indecency violations from 2000-2003.


“A key tenet of the Pacifica decision, the Supreme Court decision which held that broadcasters may not air indecent material during the time of day when children are most likely to be in the audience, was the protection of community standards of decency.  With the understanding that station ownership and management would have best interests of their communities in mind when making programming decisions, broadcasters must uphold their own community standards of decency as part of their public interest requirement to hold a broadcast license.


“Rather than take their public interest obligations seriously, the broadcast networks have exhibited a pattern of behavior that reflects contempt for the owners of the very airwaves from which they profit.  In November 2004, Viacom – then the corporate parent of the CBS television network – entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC wherein it admitted airing indecent material, paid a fine and committed itself to a detailed compliance plan to prevent the further airing of indecent material, and in return nearly all outstanding indecency complaints against Viacom and CBS were summarily dismissed by the FCC. 


“Only a month later, CBS re-aired an episode of Without a Trace that included a prolonged scene of a teenage sex orgy which had precipitated thousands of indecency complaints when first aired.  The FCC eventually issued a Notice of Apparent Liability against CBS for the airing of that program, and according to the terms of the Consent Decree, CBS should have been compelled to retrain its employees about broadcast decency law and suspend those responsible for the airing of the program.


“There is no evidence that any of this happened, and just last week CBS meekly explained to the Commission that it understood the terms of the Consent Decree applied only to live programming.  Since it was CBS’ own attorneys who negotiated the terms of this contract and there is no such stipulation in it, it is preposterous and outrageous that CBS made this claim.  If media conglomerates cannot be trusted with something as simple as making a good faith effort to prevent the airing of indecent material, then how can they been trusted to be good stewards of the public airwaves and given even more access to them?  We urge the Commission to act swiftly and take action against CBS for its shameful breach of contract.


“In May of 2003, the PTC conducted a survey of approximately a hundred TV stations around the United States which were owned and operated by one of the four major television networks. We found only one station – in one instance – had ever preempted a network program based on community standards of decency.  And one station general manager admitted that the network, not the station, made her programming decisions.  Independently owned affiliates told us that because of network contractual obligations, they could not preempt network programming.  In fact, some Fox and CBS affiliates said they weren't allowed to see advance copies of reality programming.


“When NBC aired Maxim's Top 100, 26 independent NBC affiliates chose not to telecast the program that many believed bordered on the on the pornographic and was certainly not in keeping with their community standards.  And yet not one NBC owned and operated affiliate preempted it based on community standards. 


“We know of many broadcasters who are privately afraid to preempt or edit network programs for fear of reprisal from the network.  How then can broadcasters preserve these community standards of decency when they have no ability to preempt or edit network content?  The truth is that they can’t, and while ownership rules must not be so draconian as to unnecessarily inhibit commerce, it is important to remember that the phrase ‘public interest’ is mentioned more then 100 times in the Communication Act of 1934 which regulates the broadcast medium.  Clearly, owners with ties to a community are in a much better position to determine the public interest of those they serve and whose airwaves they are allowed to broadcast upon.  When local programming decisions are prohibited by a remote corporate parent, the public interest is not served.


“On the cable side of the television equation, the consolidation of media outlets has lead to the development of an anti-competitive, anti-family business model employed throughout the cable television industry.  Since the vast majority of cable programming is owned by a mere six media conglomerates and all of these corporations force cable and satellite providers to carry all of their network offerings if any are carried (a practice known as bundling), consumer choice in cable programming has remained elusive – despite an FCC report last year that demonstrated consumers could save as much as 13% if allowed to pick and choose channel lineups. 


“In this respect, unrestrained media consolidation has directly led to millions of families paying billions of dollars for cable programming they don’t want, don’t watch and all too often find offensive, just to be able to have access to the quality news, sports and family entertainment available on cable.


“There has been much attention paid recently to the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal by News Corporation, but I’d like to illustrate another way in which media consolidation has an adverse affect on families.


“News Corporation recently launched the Fox Business Network and through the same bundled arrangement I just described, it will leverage carriage of this network – and a prescribed per subscriber fee – into tens of millions of homes, regardless of any market demand for another network devoted exclusively to business news.  It is at once outrageous and ironic that a network devoted to the coverage of business would exploit a fundamentally anti-competitive business model to guarantee it will make a buck.  However, that is exactly what is happening and happens every day with dozens of networks that are free from competitive pressure and line the pockets of media conglomerates who force cable distributors to carry their programming even while forcing consumers to pay for it.


“The proposed elimination of the newspaper duopoly rule threatens the important check that media outlets have on each other.  If a television station and newspaper in a given market share ownership it follows that they will share editorial outlook on policy.  Even if they don’t, how likely is it that a newspaper would criticize a local broadcaster for anything – much less a violation of community standards of decency – if both entities are owned by the same company?  Much as networks have a chokehold over the programming decisions of their affiliates, so too would an ownership group exercise editorial control over its media properties in the same market.


“Similarly, media consolidation has led to a self-serving news media that seek to protect the interests of its corporate parent.  The FCC has been empowered by Congress to uphold broadcast decency standards on the public airwaves at the times when children are most likely to be in the audience and the Supreme Court has upheld Congress’ right to do so.  Unfortunately, the broadcast networks have challenged the FCC’s ability to enforce these standards and even convinced two federal judges in New York City that they have a ‘right to air the ‘F’ and the ‘S’ words when we know there to be tens of millions of children watching television.  Although dozens of concerned family groups, including the PTC, as well as tens of thousands of concerned parents looked on with disgust that a federal court could reach such a preposterous conclusion, there has been only limited public outcry over that decision.  The reason for this is simple: in large measure, the American people don’t know that it has happened.


“In the wake of that court decision, not a single national broadcast news organization saw fit to cover it, and even with a multitude of 24-hour-a-day news channels on cable, there was near zero coverage of a decision that will directly impact every family in the country as well as the policies determining appropriate use of the airwaves that they themselves own.  There is only one conclusion that can be reached – that the corporate news divisions did not cover their parent companies’ lawsuits that claimed the absurd ‘right’ to air profanity early in the day.  In a more diverse, more localized media environment, companies are held to account for their actions.  Clearly, in this case, they have not been.


“Continued media consolidation puts the corporate interest before the public interest, and it is up to the FCC, in its rightful role as upholder of the public interest, to maintain a media ownership policy that benefits the public and not merely those who would exploit the media landscape for their own gain.  The interest of the public: concerned parents and impressionable children – the owners of the broadcast airwaves - must be paramount, and it is time that responsibility and common decency once again became a part of the media conglomerates’ lexicon.”


To schedule an interview with a PTC representative, please contact Kelly Oliver (ext. 140) or Megan Franko (ext. 148) at (703) 683-5004.

The Parents Television Council™ (www.parentstv.org®) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children. The PTC also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.




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