If I were a broadcast television executive, I'd be very discouraged by an interview with new FCC boss Julius Genachowski that was published Friday, and if I were a cable executive, I'd be worried. Genachowski, speaking with the trade journal Broadcasting & Cable, said his agency needs to keep a tight regulatory rein on the content of broadcast programming, a guarantee that its audience will keep shrinking. And he ominously expressed concerns about cable content, too, which suggests he's mulling a power grab to bring cable -- currently free of FCC control -- under the government's thumb as well.
Genachowski said regulation of the content of broadcast TV is still necessary "because there are millions of Americans for whom broadcast television is their only video medium." That's simply absurd. More than 90 percent of American homes get their television via cable or satellite, and many of the remain 10 percent watch little or no TV at all. (Which is why the much-forecast national mental breakdown over June's switch to digital broadcasting never happened: Hardly anybody was actually affected.) More importantly, most of the TV audience at any given moment is watching a cable channel rather than a broadcast channel. At least in part, that's because cable programmers don't have to water down their content to appease random FCC dicta on which word or body part might be indecent.
But that might change if Genachowski gets his way. Of course, it's all in the name of the children, you understand. "Parents are very frustrated when they turn on the TV, whether it's a broadcast-only home or whether they are cable or satellite subscribers," Genachowski said. "They are frustrated because they see things they don't think are appropriate for their kids, and they are frustrated by their [lack of] ability to do something about it. There is also frustration and confusion about all the different media platforms kids deal with today."
The clear implication is that the FCC might be interested in helping out those frustrated parents by making sure cable programming is appropriate. (Not to mention cleaning up the Internet, video games and God knows what else might be covered by the phrase "all the different media platforms kids deal with today.") It doesn't take much imagination to guess what the FCC Child Police would do with shows like Nip/Tuck, True Blood or Nurse Jackie. Once you've established children as the justification, almost any act of censorship can be justified.
I'm not unsympathetic with the criticisms of TV programming made by groups like the Parents Television Council. If I had kids, I wouldn't want them watching the smarmy sexual come-onsand debauched gangsta-rap values that inform virtually everything on MTV, just to name one offender. But the best way for the FCC to deal with those concerns is to endorse so-called a la carte programming for cable systems, which enable parents to pay foronly the channels they want coming into their homes rather buying entire tiers of programming as they do now. Letting FCC censors, who work with the speed of slugs (they've got years of backlogged complaints over broadcast indecency on which they haven't even begun to work) and the lucidity of delphic oracles (they infamously ruled the F-word indecent when used as a verb, but okay as an adverb) is a recipe for disaster, not only for cable channels but for viewers.