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A Campaign to Head Off New Decency Rules

The entertainment industry wants to avoid more crackdowns by teaching parents how to block racy TV shows.

July 26, 2006|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hoping to persuade lawmakers to ditch a proposal dramatically increasing broadcast indecency fines, the entertainment industry announced a $300-million initiative this spring to show parents how to block objectionable TV shows.

The strategy failed: Congress hiked the fines tenfold and they went into effect last month.

But the coalition of movie studios, broadcasters and cable and satellite operators pressed ahead anyway in an attempt to prevent additional government crackdowns on indecency.

On Tuesday, the group released its first TV ads, including a humorous encounter featuring a mother upset at a Sopranos-like trio of mobsters for using a shovel to knock off a rival.

The ads, the first of several to be shown over the next 18 months with the $300 million in donated airtime, are part of the largest campaign in the 64-year history of the not-for-profit U.S. Ad Council. The average Ad Council campaign is $30 million a year, said Chief Executive Peggy Conlon.

The public service announcements point parents to www.thetvboss.org, where they can learn how to use the V-chip and other blocking technologies. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, was brought in by the entertainment industry to head the campaign, called Media Management. He said the stakes were still too high to kill the initiative after Congress increased broadcast indecency fines to a maximum of $325,000 per violation.

"I think to turn around would have been a terrible blunder and would have been a slap in the face to the public," Valenti said. "I believe this is right to do, and we're going to do it."

Valenti noted that an earlier version of the indecency legislation mandated a broadcast license revocation hearing for any station with three violations. Some in Congress continue to talk of forcing cable and satellite providers to allow viewers to pay only for the channels they want and to abide by the same indecency regulations that apply to broadcasters.

The initiative isn't the first attempt to educate parents about how to use TV ratings and technology to prevent their children from seeing objectionable shows. Cable providers launched a $250-million initiative in 2004. They had spent about $200 million by early this year but will funnel the rest into the new industrywide campaign, said Brian Dietz, spokesman for the National Cable Television Assn.

Many parents still have a lot to learn about blocking TV shows, said Vicky Rideout, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. A 2004 survey by the group found that just 24% of parents used TV ratings often and only 15% used the V-chip, which is installed in most TVs and can block content based on ratings.

Conlon said the new ads used humor to draw attention and conveyed a simple message -- parental empowerment.

"We wanted this to be something that wasn't just an informational campaign.... We wanted it to be motivating," she said. "Every parent wants to think they're in control of the things that are important in their children's lives."

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