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Christian groups split on ‘family-choice’ cable option

WASHINGTON (BP)–The cable industry’s decision to offer consumers bundled “family-friendly” programming, as an add-on to basic cable offerings, has met with mixed reaction from Christian advocacy groups.

Comcast and Time-Warner, the nation’s largest cable operators, along with other cable companies, agreed Dec. 12 to offer a “family-choice” tier of programming, apparently in response to pressure the Federal Communications Commission is exerting on cable operators to give consumers more choice.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin recently told Congress he favors cable providers giving customers an a la carte pricing model in which consumers could pick and choose which channels they pay to receive.

Rates and content for the new cable packages, expected to be available in early 2006, have not yet been determined.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said the family-choice tiers of cable programming, although a “positive and encouraging sign,” will not alleviate “parents’ responsibility to monitor carefully their children’s television viewing habits.”

Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and host of Salem Communications’ syndicated program, “Richard Land Live!” said the cable companies’ new pricing model is “just one more tool” for families to control what comes into their homes.

Much of what television programmers pass off as entertainment is inappropriate for children and adults, Land said, noting, “The problem rests with cable and broadcast television programming.”

While appreciative of cable operators’ willingness to make the move that would give consumers another option in protecting their family, Land said, “… the proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it, or as Ronald Reagan famously used to say, ‘Trust, but verify,’” He voiced hope that the cable companies would “exercise good judgment in developing a family-friendly tier of programs” but noted: “We will be watching to see if their definition of family-friendly meets our definition and the definition of millions of concerned parents across America.”

The cable companies’ interest in family-friendly programming, Land also said, “indicates these media giants are at least hearing the objections of parents and other family-friendly voices who are urging them to help parents and other interested adults protect the nation’s children from harmful and objectionable material.”

Some religious broadcasters expressed fear that if cable operators were forced to allow customers to select which cable channels they want from an a la carte menu, their programming might be forced off the cable box. The cable trade group and several of the larger cable outfits opposed al a carte pricing models as well.

Jerry Falwell, however, called the cable companies’ announcement a “welcome response to the concerns of families.”

“A new family tier of programming responds to a deep and abiding concern among parents about a coarsening of the culture and growing indecent programming directed at children,” said Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Dec. 12.

Yet at least two Christian activist groups were less than enthused with the cable industry’s announcement of a family-tier model.

In a news release, Concerned Women for America said they do not trust cable companies with the responsibility to select what channels should be included in the family-friendly tiers. Parents should have that responsibility, the release stated.

“Cable companies that air some of the most graphically immoral material in television history cannot be trusted to turn around and successfully create a family-friendly tier,” said Lanier Swann, CWA’s director of government relations. “Cable choice is a far better option for empowering parents to keep filth away from our children and restore rightful authority to all consumers.”

“Allowing cable companies to offer family tiers gets us nowhere,” echoed Daniel Weiss of Focus on the Family. “The reason so many Americans are fed up is that these companies refuse to regulate themselves. Now they’re going to determine what is good family fare?”

Weiss added, “Cable companies have no concern for the public interest.”

Colby May of the American Center for Law & Justice praised the trade group’s announcement: “Cable groups are responding to the express needs of American families. Families need a safe place to go where children are protected from indecent material.”

May, who represented the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, a group of religious broadcasters, before the FCC, admitted, “There is still more to be done to curb indecency” but called the cable operators’ decision “a very positive step in the right direction.”

The Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition is not connected with For Faith & Family, a media ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • Dwayne Hastings