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Powell Wants Decency Code

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell Wednesday urged broadcasters to revive a code of conduct that would help them to self-police the airwaves and provide more family friendly-viewing.

"I strongly encourage you to develop and adopt a new voluntary code to guide your actions in the same spirit you have in years past," Powell said at the NAB's Washington summit on responsible programming. Although the code was eliminated after a Justice Department lawsuit in the 1970s, Powell said a new version could be crafted to avoid the legal problems that bedeviled it in the past.

Although many in the industry have complained that FCC guidelines aimed at spelling out what can and cannot be said on the airwaves are too vague, he warned that the public's increasing comfort with government "content intrusion" could lead to harsher restrictions than necessary.

"You do not want the government to write a 'Red Book' of Dos and Don'ts," he said. "A 'Dirty Conduct Code' will not only chill speech, it may deep freeze it. It might be an ice age that would last a very long time."

Following Wednesday's summit, NAB President Eddie Fritts told reporters that "a variety of options" are being considered by the group, including reviving a code, establishing a set of best-practices and relying on individual company codes or zero tolerance policies for performers that cross the line.

Fritts said NAB's executive committee and joint TV/radio board would discuss the options further at the organization's convention in late April. Concrete steps will not be taken for at least a couple of months, he said. "It's a long-term process."