FCC Chairman Calls on Cable to Address Indecency

While steering clear of calling for extending indecency rules to cable, Kevin Martin says the industry has a responsibility to address concerns about vulgarity in TV programming.

SAN FRANCISCO—In one of his first appearances since taking the helm at the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin encouraged cable executives to deal with the issue of indecency on television as an industry.

Martin, who was appointed FCC chairman two weeks ago, spoke Tuesday during a session at the 2005 National Show, a cable conference and exposition being held here.

Asked about whether the FCC would extend indecency rules to the cable industry, Martin responded that the U.S. Congress, and not the FCC, must decide whether the rules governing broadcast TV should be broadened. He did not say whether he supports including cable under indecency rules.

But the cable industry has a responsibility to respond to growing concerns from viewers and parents about indecency in programming, Martin said. Martin has served as a commissioner since 2001, and he said that the number of indecency complaints reaching the FCC has risen during that time from a few hundred a year to millions a year.

"This is an opportunity for the cable industry to address [indecency]," Martin said.

Indecency regulation has become a growing issue in the cable industry. Just last month, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, proposed applying broadcast indecency rules to cable.

Former FCC chairman Michael Powell also oversaw an FCC that levied a series of high-profile fines last year against broadcasters in the wake of Congressional indecency hearings that followed singer Janet Jacksons breast-baring during the Super Bowl.

As for regulation, Martin offered the cable industry a glimpse into his philosophy as a regulator. Much like his predecessor, Martin said he would err on the side of supporting the marketplace and competition rather than seeking more regulation.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about former FCC Chairman Michael Powells farewell public address.

"When I talk about being a regulator, my personal vantage point is that the marketplace is much more important than regulation," Martin said. "But that doesnt mean the government doesnt have a role to play in [ensuring] fair competition."

Martin provided few details about the communications issues and technologies he expects to focus on as FCC chairman. When asked about the issue he first is dealing with in his new role, Martin referred to the personnel changes that typically follow a change in FCC leadership.

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