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Kids' Activist Blasts FCC

Longtime children's-TV activist Peggy Charren wrote Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell last week asking the FCC to stop censoring the media in the name of protecting children.

Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television and now a board member of the nonprofit Center for Creative Voices in Media, joined with that group's executive director, Jonathan Rintels, in branding the FCC's indecency crackdown overly broad, chilling, pervasive and contrary to the public interest.

Charren, a longtime ally of V-Chip proponent and frequent media critic Rep. Ed Markey, has long pushed broadcasters to slate more kid-friendly fare, but she has never advocated a national nanny role for government.

Charren and Rintels said that the FCC's decision to make the F-word and other profanities potentially liable for big fines, regardless of context, was tantamount to "ruling out quality programming." That ruling was rooted in Bono's inadvertent F-word during NBC's 2003 broadcast of the Golden Globes.

The pair appeared to be reacting in part to an FCC filing last week by major producers of noncommercial programming. In that filing, the programmers told the commission that they had begun self-censoring shows like Masterpiece Theater and Antiques Roadshow for fear of running afoul of the new indecency ruling.

"Many within and without the Commission supported its new policy on the grounds that it is necessary to protect –- and in the best interests of -- America’s children," wrote Charren and Rintels. “Regrettably, nothing could be further from the truth. Government censorship is not the way to protect children from inappropriate television. The right to express what some consider offensive speech is the price Americans pay for freedom of political speech and we cannot afford to risk losing that freedom. It is not in the best interests of America’s children to “protect” them from expression that is itself protected by the First Amendment."

They suggested that viewers, not the government, should be calling the shots. “Today, with the V-chip, and cable and satellite boxes that can block programs and channels," they said, "there are many technological options for parents and others to avoid television programming some might find offensive for their children or themselves. And there are always the low-tech alternatives of changing the channel or turning the television off."

Various networks, station groups, the ACLU and others have now asked the FCC to reconsider its Bono decision. Meanwhile, there are signs that a congressional effort to boost indecency fines against stations, networks and individual, may be losing steam.