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Senate Passes Child Safe Viewing Act

The Senate has passed by unanimous consent a bill that would require the FCC to investigate content-blocking technologies that can help parents screen out inappropriate video content.

The House has not passed the bill, but there is still time since its members remain in session as the arm-twisting and carrot-extending process continues by those trying to get enough votes to pass the financial bailout bill Friday.

If the bill passes, Congress is expected to exit until after the election, when there will likely be a week-long lame duck session.

The Child Safe Viewing Act (S. 602) was introduced in March—the latest incarnation of a similar bill that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) introduced during the summer of 2007—and is meant to help parents control indecent content.

The act would direct the FCC to collect data on the most advanced methods for blocking video content, including on wired and wireless platforms and across a variety of platforms including TVs, DVD players, VCRs, cable set-tops and wireless handsets.

The bill’s preamble outlines several assertions that form the basis of the proposed legislation, including that studies show that “the strong appeal of video programming erodes the ability of parents to develop responsible attitudes and behavior in their children," and that "there is a compelling government interest in empowering parents to limit their children's exposure to harmful television content."

One of the arguments broadcasters are making in their challenges to FCC indecency actions is that the V-chip/ratings system is an effective content-control tool and, thus, a more narrowly tailored means to the government's end of protecting children.

But the Pryor bill asks the FCC to look at technologies that operate independently of any ratings system, as well.

The FCC would be required to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to encourage, or even mandate, use of such technologies to "enhance the ability of a parent to protect his or her child from indecent or objectionable programming, as determined by such parent."

The Parents Television Council, for one, is hoping the House takes up the bill.

“The unanimous passage of the Child Safe Viewing Act is a clear message to the television networks and to the FCC that our elected representatives understand the significance of this issue," said PTC President Tim Winter in a statement. "We encourage members of the House of Representatives to move swiftly to consider this Senate bill."