commentary by Steve Effros Family Friendly? Let’s see…."Postcards from Buster" leaves PBS out of the mix, let alone the Teletubies. National Geographic Channel has programs (just like the magazine used to) that show, heaven forbid, more of a naked breast than Janet Jackson did, so it’s out. Given that virtually any channel showing news is engaged in displaying violence, carnage and, yes, even some nudity and profanity, they don’t make the grade either. Cartoons are about as violent in content as it gets… think of Punch and Judy and run it all the way up to today’s Anime and video games like Grand Theft Auto or Postal. Nicktoons is out. Elmer Fudd keeps shooting at Bugs, and the Road Runner constantly blows up Wiley. Well, maybe C-SPAN could get on the tier, but no, the vice president used stronger no-no language than Bono. What’s going to be on this "family friendly" tier that folks in DC are talking about? It’s just another genuflection to what is considered "politically correct" these days. Remember when the "conservatives" ranted against the "liberal" insistence on being "PC?" My, how times have changed! Today we are engaged in an orgy of warnings and threats about government having to intercede for parents who, as we learned last week from a Kaiser Family Foundation report, don’t seem to even be concerned enough to establish any rules for television watching. Therefore, apparently, the feds are going to have to do it for us (or to us.) Don’t forget: cable customers can block out any channel or program they want to block right now! Never mind, the proposals for "indecency" legislation are flying. Applying the same rules to cable and satellite as well as broadcasting is only the beginning. Politicians are arguing that when folks look at television they can’t "tell the difference" between a cable channel and a broadcast channel and therefore the politicians have the right to restrict the First Amendment rights of all linear video packagers. Sort of like saying you can’t spot the difference between the binding on a government-authorized book in a library and any other, so we can regulate the content of all books…. Right? But back to this "family friendly" tier idea. This is the worst form of content regulation, because it creates economic incentives to try to create, or not create programs in an image that some bureaucrat or politician defines. It has the same infirmity that the "Fairness Doctrine" did; who defines "fairness?" As Dan Rather said back in 1985 about the "chilling effect" that idea had, "…Once a newsperson has to stop and consider what a government agency will think of something he or she wants to put on the air, an invaluable element of freedom has been lost." The same thing is true for "family friendly" tiers. Ultimately, given the exclamations that movies like "Shark Tales" are really pro-homosexual propaganda (as was the charge against Postcards and Teletubbies, too) and that violence concerns would extend the filter to clear out a majority of programs, maybe the only thing that would be left for the "Family Friendly" tier would be religious programs. There’s an irony in that since one of the first attempts at restricting cable access programming at the local level by a municipal cable council in the 1970’s was to block the burgeoning religious channels. Why? They were siphoning money away from local churches! Definitely not "family friendly." So what’s left? And who would decide? Based on what? What a lousy idea.

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