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Karmazin Offers Modified "Adult" À La Carte Proposal

Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin told legislators on Tuesday that his company has proposed giving customers a price break if they choose to block channels with adult content. He did not say how much or what would qualify as adult content, calling it a  more "à la carte" model of service.

That revelation came in response to a question from Senate Antitrust Subcommittee ranking minority member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during an oversight hearing Tuesday on the proposed merger between Sirius and XM, one of a series of hearings on the deal.

Hatch said he was concerned about protecting children from some of the "aberrant" content on satellite radio.

Karmazin said that in a license-related filing with the FCC, the company had just proposed providing a "cost reduction" to anyone who chooses not to receive adult content. He did not elaborate on what the filing was, but it appears to be the official filing on the merger. A source said it was being filed on Tuesday.

Senator Sam Brownback, who helped boost indecency fines, said he was also concerned about adult content on radio.  Brownback cited Playboy Radio and its Sexy Stories and Night Calls programs, among others, as satellite radio content he had concerns about.

Karmazin said he believed that not all content that is available on satellite radio had to be acceptable to children.

Karmazin said he would not agree to adopt broadcast-style indecency regulations or harbors, though he said he might if there were ever a clear definition of what the government did or didn't want. Give me a speed limit, he said, and I'll follow it. Hatch appeared to agree that it was tough to hold any media to a vague standard.

Brownback asked whether Karmazin would agree not to carry "pornographic" material on the merged service. Karmazin said no. He added that he was not interested in airing obscenities but he did not know what Brownback would define as pornography, and that he remained a strong defender of the First Amendment.

Brownback said that a monopoly not willing to limit that content was a "problem."

An FCC spokesman said that the FCC would consider any proposals by the company, but would not comment specifically on the block and rebate proposal. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has long called for tiered or à la carte models for pay service to allow parents to better control their children's access to adult content.

"No matter what Mel Karmazin promises," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, "there is nothing that gets around the fact that this is a govenrment-sanctioned moonoply that he is seeking and it should be rejected."