Wednesday, November 30, 2005

FCC Lunacy

Calling the men in the white coats, we have a new patient; FCC Chairmen Kevin J. Martin has gone off the deep end and may need to be reigned in both by free speech advocates, and surprisingly for a Republican chairman, by free market advocates as well. According to the Washington Post, Martin at yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee Hearing suggested that not only should indecency standards be applied to cable television, but also that cable companies be required to offer “ala carte” programming options, despite numerous industry analyses and experts indicating that such a requirement would mean both higher costs for consumers and less programming. Here’s the money quote:

“For the last three years, I have . . . been urging the cable and satellite
industry to give parents more of the tools they need. Thus far, there has been
too little response. … If cable and satellite operators continue to refuse to
offer parents more tools such as family-friendly programming packages, basic
indecency and profanity restrictions may be a viable alternative that should
also be considered, ….”

Hopefully the numerous problems with these statements are so obvious that I don’t have to point them all out, so I’ll just harp on a few. First, I should say that I have no doubt that Martin and many others believe the television programming, especially cable programming is among other things, god-awful, indecent, lewd, lascivious, and generally bad for children. It, however, is also my understanding that every television set comes with a power button, which enables parents to turn it off to prevent children from watching what they aren’t supposed to. Moreover, oh yes, the wonderful capitalist, free market system that we work so hard to promote around the world also enables people to NOT BUY CABLE if they think the programming is so bad for children. Why are these simple concepts so difficult for some people to understand? In other words, parents don’t need either indecency laws for cable or ala carte programming options; they have all the “tools” they need to prevent children from seeing indecent programming. They have remote controls, parental blocks, on/off switches, supervision ability, punishments, and above all the option simply not to purchase the services.

I know I’ve written here before that if anything the entertainment market, whether it be movies, music, news, television, cable, or what have you, is perhaps the best example of the free markets in action. These markets are 100% dependent on the disposable incomes of their consumers. Media is not a necessity for life like say food, water, or heath services; therefore, it is perhaps the most respondent to market forces. Just look at Sony/BMG and the recent stories about the computer software problem they had with their CDs containing anti-piracy detectors. My point is a simple one, if people didn’t like what they saw on cable and stopped paying for its services, the response would be almost instantaneous. In other words, the cable companies would change their programming to meet the demands of the market. Similarly, if there was a market demand for ala carte programming, I am positive that cable providers would jump at the opportunity to offer such a service. They don’t and I’m sure the reason is not because they want to cram Lifetime, ESPN, or HBO down the consumer’s throat, but it is economics, pure and simple. More people apparently want the programming packages currently being offered or they wouldn’t pay for the services. In the end I find it a bit ironic that the proposed solution for supposedly conservative government officials is more government intervention into markets that are functioning exactly they way they are supposed to function, by meeting the demands of their consumers.


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