Culture War Invades a la Carte Debate

The culture war has a new home: the cable a la carte debate.

A sex-education group is coming under strong attack from a conservative quarter for opposing efforts to require cable operators to sell programming on an a la carte basis.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States is fighting a la carte mandates, claiming that they would threaten the survival of niche networks that need the subscriber exposure afforded by large tiers.

However, Concerned Women for America, in a strongly worded statement posted on its Web page Friday (, said SIECUS was using the a la carte issue to advance an agenda of favoring unrestrained sex education over teen-abstinence programs.

“We’re not surprised to see the sex-with-kids lobby weighing in on the cable choice debate,” said Robert Knight, director of CWA’s Culture & Family Institute. “After all, they know how much of an ally television has been in destroying children’s innocence and setting them up for premature sex. Although they pay lip service to worrying about minority-themed channels, the real agenda is to keep the sex flowing to kids and, particularly, the homosexual programming.”

With 500,000 members, CWA is a right-of-center group that wants the federal government to prosecute pornographers and promote ways to restrict children’s access to indecent TV programming.

CWA has voiced support for greater a la carte cable options endorsed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.). The Federal Communications Commission is preparing an a la carte report for Congress due Nov. 18.

SIECUS spokeswoman Adrienne Verrilli said her group is repeatedly attacked by CWA, so the clash over a la carte was no surprise.

“CWA is a right-wing organization primarily advancing a very anti-women agenda,” Verrilli said. “They’re anti-choice, they’re anti-family planning, they don’t support sexuality education, they don’t support the Family Leave Act, and the list goes on and on and on.”

Founded in 1964, SIECUS argues that teen-abstinence programs, if not combined with sex education, are ineffective in combating teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Earlier in the month, SIECUS filed comments with the FCC saying that a la carte “would have a significant negative impact” on networks that cater to “women, minorities, gays and lesbians and non-English-language speakers.”

SIECUS was one of dozens of organizations contacted for a la carte help by Oxygen Media chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne, an outspoken critic of tier unbundling.

“We spoke with Oxygen about channel choice, or whatever it is, and we are very supportive of their programming and their network and feel that it is very important that programming stays diversified,” Verrilli said.

Knight said SIECUS was using the a la carte issue to frustrate efforts to promote abstinence until marriage.

“Clearly, this position on cable choice is an indication that SIECUS wants to keep parents from standing between their children and the SIECUS version of ‘age-appropriate’ sexual information,” he added.