Family Hour Fans Meet Martin

Representatives of self-described "pro-family" groups met with FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin last week to talk about what they can do together to "clean up" prime time TV, including a drive to reinstitute the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. family viewing hour.

The Family Viewing Hour was part of the NAB's voluntary programming code from 1975 until that code was thrown out on antitrust grounds in 1983.

The groups, which met with Chairman Michael Powell to discuss the issue a year ago and, said one representative, got "absolutely nowhere," are together again thanks in part to Martin. "His courage in speaking publicly has in some ways empowered us to go forward and to look for ways to work with the FCC," said Penny Nance, president of the Alexandria-based Kids First Coalition.

Martin's office confirmed the meeting but had no comment.

At the NATPE convention in January in New Orleans, Martin bemoaned the coarsening of TV programming, suggesting it might be tied to media consolidation. "Are executives more willing to put on questionable programming when they know that they won't see you at the local grocery store tonight, the game Saturday or church on Sunday?" he asked a family programming forum crowd. Martin then said the FCC "needs to do more." Among his suggested solutions, all voluntary industry initiatives, were reviving the family hour and encouraging cable and satellite companies to create family-friendly programming tiers or a la carte offerings.

Martin shares that pulpit with Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, a longtime critic of TV programming and an advocate of reviving the NAB code.

Copps also pushed for programming reforms in a speech during the same NATPE forum, suggesting a link between ownership concentration and what he called programmers' race to the bottom. "Is it just coincidence that the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves is happening alongside the rising tide of consolidation?" he asked. He said large companies, "essentially faceless in most of the communities where they own stations," are more likely to "cater to the lowest common denominator."

Copps suggested that before the FCC decides whether to loosen media ownership restrictions, it should try to determine whether such a link exits.

The almost dozen groups meeting with Martin last week included the Family Research Council, Parents Television Council, Salvation Army and the American Association of Christian Schools.