Broadcasters launch v-chip PSA campaign

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Amid mounting pressure for cable companies to clean up the airwaves or risk legislation, the broadcast industry last week unveiled a $300 million public-service campaign to explain to parents controls available to block unwanted programs and movies from their TV sets.

The announcement was made by Jack Valenti, the former chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, during a hearing held by the Senate Commerce Committee on decency issues. Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has said the hearings are aimed at developing legislation and encouraging the broadcasting industry to move forward on additional self-regulation. The panel heard comments a month ago about problems and brought broadcasters back last week to get response.

Mr. Valenti, who helped develop the TV industry's ratings system as he did for movies, said the campaign will run for 18 months, and the public-service announcements will air not only on cable and broadcast TV but also in movie theaters, satellite channels and in consumer-electronic stores.

He said industry cooperation will be unprecedented. "It's the first time we have seen this unity. [The campaign] will be all over cable, satellite, the national networks. It is the first time we have come together like this. I am convinced we are going to make a real impression."

`Simple to understand'

Referring to the v-chip content-blocking technology found in TV sets, Mr. Valenti told the committee that "every parent in America has the power to control" what goes into their homes. He said the campaign is being run by the Ad Council, which will "devise and create messages that are simple to understand so consumers can understand all the programs in their hands."

Peggy Conlon, president-CEO of the Ad Council, said the level of support could set a council record if all the media time promised comes through. She also defended the use of the Ad Council's voluntary resources that include advertising agency creative for a campaign that serves broadcasting industry interests.

Ms. Conlon said the Ad Council had been talking for several years about trying to get broadcasters involved in a campaign about the role of parents and technology as a way to protect media choices, adding that despite any political motivation by the broadcast industry, the campaign's message is "consistent" with the Ad Council's long-term commitment toward healthier children.

She also said that while ad agencies will donate their time just as they do for other Ad Council campaigns, the broadcast industry will pay production expenses. At the hearing other broadcasting executives said the industry has done a poor job of publicizing the tools parents now have.

`Time to take action'

Several cable and satellite companies unveiled plans to offer a family-friendly tier of channels, though satellite company EchoStar, which operates the Dish Network, said some program suppliers are resisting splitting out family-friendly channels from their other programming.

While most senators praised the efforts, others indicated they wanted legislation that might stiffen penalties and extend the Federal Communication Commission's oversight of broadcast indecency to cable.

"It is time for our committee to take action," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who has offered legislation that could put limits on violence on TV.

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