TV viewers tuning out government control

As Senate preps for forum on racy programming, study finds that Americans want Big Brother to butt out of parenting.

Americans overwhelmingly want Big Brother to butt out of their TV watching, according to a new study of U.S. viewing habits set for release Tuesday.

According to the survey, done this month by Russell Research for TV Watch, 81 percent of American TV watchers worry about the kinds of programs their children could be exposed to, and 91 percent of parents said more parental involvement is the best way to keep kids from seeing what they shouldn't see. Just 9 percent of parents said the government should increase control and enforcement of network television programming.

The survey arrives in time for Tuesday's Senate forum, focusing on racy television programming. The all-day gathering, called by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, includes representatives from conservative and liberal groups, the Federal Communications Commission, TV executives and groups like the Parents Television Council that have been the big drivers in recent moves to crack down on racy broadcasts.

"People see something on TV they don't like, and some activists yell from the rooftops calling for more government intervention, but that's not what people want," said Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch. "The vast majority of the people don't want the government making their programming decisions."

TV Watch is a broad-based coalition that opposes government control of TV programming and promotes the use of such tools as content ratings and parental controls. Its members include the American Conservative Union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The Creative Coalition. Viacom, News Corp. and NBC Universal, the respective owners of CBS, Fox and NBC, are also members.

According to the survey, of 513 parents with children ages 2 to17, parents rely on a combination of rules about TV viewing, ratings and newer technology like cable and satellite blocking to manage what their children watch.

The survey found that a significant majority of parents are familiar with the available parental controls and that:

• 85 percent of parents find TV ratings useful

• 66 percent find cable-blocking technology useful

• 57 percent find satellite-blocking technology useful

• 56 percent find the V-chip useful

The V-chip program-blocking technology was mandated in 1996. While Dyke admitted that use of TV-blocking technology like the V-chip is low, that doesn't mean that parents aren't paying attention.

"The decisions parents make about how their children watch TV are as diverse as Americans themselves," he said. "Some people use the V-chip, some people watch TV with their kids, some people turn it off. I am hopeful that American lawmakers understand that American moms and dads don't want the government playing parent."

Stevens wants to hold the "forum" instead of an official Senate hearing because he doesn't want the participants to be constrained by the usual Senate rules.

Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air TV outlets from airing references to sexual and excretory functions from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels or satellite radio.

Congress has considered legislation that would increase the fines for indecent broadcasts to $500,000 per incident from the current $32,500 for a licensee and from $11,000 to $500,000 for an individual entertainer. That bill also would remove an FCC provision that gave individuals a warning before issuing a fine.

As defined by the FCC, material is indecent if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium." Indecent speech can be safely aired from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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