Lieberman Targets Online Content

TV networks venturing into online space could well face another indecency fight from a familiar critic. That is if Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), running as an independent, wins his bid for reelection, which appears likely.

In a speech at a “listener brunch” for WDRC(AM) Hartford, Conn., two weeks ago, Lieberman, who has taken aim at videogames and music, said it is time to get tough on Internet content.

“I got into this fight back when my youngest daughter was about 4, and she happened to be watching a particularly raunchy TV show with her older brother,” says Lieberman. “I heard some of the crude jokes on the show and was amazed it was on in the 'family hour,’ when a lot of small children like our youngest were watching.”

Now, he says, it is time to turn Washington’s attention to Internet content. “It’s one thing for a parent to turn off the TV, like I did when my daughter was watching that raunchy show more than a decade ago,” he told his audience. “But today, kids have access to a whole new hidden world of entertainment through a wide variety of devices, many of them small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.

“Technology,” he added, “is changing more rapidly than our ability to protect our kids. I believe the time has come to fight back.”

The Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Adam Thierer says Lieberman, who has a long track record on media issues, “is helping to change the way Democrats—the traditional defenders of unfettered freedom of speech and expression in Washington—think about these issues.”

Most Democrats supported legislation boosting indecency fines on broadcasters, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), with Lieberman’s support, pushed through a bill that charges NIH to conduct a long-term study into the effects of media on kids; however, it is as yet unfunded.

“Even if he doesn’t win his reelection bid [he is leading by double digits in some polls], he’ll likely remain a major player in this debate,” says Thierer, “and others in Congress will use the playbook he has put together during his two-decade tenure in the Senate.

“These issues and proposals should be of great concern to traditional media operators because there is no longer a bright line between old and new media.

Form Filings Dominate Ownership Docket

The FCC has posted more than 160,000 comments and other filings in its review of media-ownership rules, but not all are new, and a large number are identical or only slightly modified form complaints solicited by anti-consolidation groups.

Comments are due Oct. 23; reply comments, Dec. 21.

The FCC is reviewing three sets of comments as it decides how to better justify its rules or change them to suit the court in light of marketplace and technological changes since 2003, when a federal court remanded its deregulatory-rule rewrite.

About 18,000 of the comments are from 2003 or earlier. The rest have been filed between June 2006, when the FCC opened the new ownership proceeding, and the middle of last week, lately at a clip of several hundred a day.

A spot check found several dozen were the same or slightly modified version of the e-mail petition sponsored by Consumers Union and posted on the 

The e-mail form is also on the Consumers Union site but modified to include a call for an FCC investigation into a local-news study a former FCC staffer alleges was suppressed; the FCC’s general counsel is already investigating.

Besides asking the FCC not to loosen rules in general, the e-mail specifically opposes dropping the ban on the ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market. Lifting the ban was one change the court did not fault.

Click here to see the precomment version.
Click here for the post comment version.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.