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C-SPAN Weighs Imposing Delay

Fans Urge Network Not to Add Filter to Debate

For a television network that prides itself on presenting live, unfiltered discussion and debate featuring average Americans, C-SPAN might appear to be taking an unusual step by giving consideration to instituting a time-delay during call-in programming.

But the raging national debate over indecency standards appears to have ensnared Capitol Hill’s own television network. As C-SPAN founder and President Brian Lamb said in a New York Times article Monday, a time delay might be the only way to deal with a spike in off-color language on the cable network’s call-in shows.

“Because of the uptick we have asked our engineering department to investigate the current time-delay technology,” Robin Scullin, C-SPAN’s media relations manager, explained Monday. “It’s not something we want to do. … C-SPAN always aspires to provide things live and on the record. There’s an interest in open access, but we have the decency issue. We’re trying to balance both.”

Scullin noted that, as a cable network, C-SPAN does not have any regulatory impetus to institute the time delay, but she said that this is not the first time C-SPAN has contemplated the idea.

“We did look into this a couple years ago. We want to find out, is it less expensive now? Is it more feasible?”

Some are also wondering if the proposal is an overreaction to the recent spate of indecency controversies on broadcast radio and television outlets.

“I’m sure this churns [Lamb’s] stomach,” said Steve Frantzich, a political science professor and author of “The C-SPAN Revolution.” “The philosophy of the place is that people are inherently good. And sometimes when you’re too nice, you get taken advantage of.”

But Frantzich added that he doesn’t see the time delay as a necessary step. “I judge people not just on what they say but on how they say it. I like how I can get the context. And from the viewership, I don’t think [vulgar language on C-SPAN] taints a lot of minds.

“We tend to go in phases. I think this is just part of a package of concerns that people are talking about right now,” he said.

Regina Labelle, a Seattle attorney who founded the nonprofit group Citizens for C-SPAN, said the proposal is a sad reflection not on C-SPAN, but on society.

“C-SPAN is a pretty aware entity and I can’t imagine that this is an easily arrived at or quick decision on their part,” she said.

After Lamb’s comments were published Monday, the network began receiving viewer comments on the issue almost immediately.

“Here’s another idea — get rid of the call-in shows,” e-mailed one viewer. “And not to sound elitist, but I’m not interested in what average people think of complicated policy issues; especially the people that call in to opine and confirm their complete ignorance.”

“Censorship in any degree or form should not be imposed on a service such as C-SPAN,” wrote another viewer. “Once you start where do you stop? And who decides what gets edited? What if I have a different opinion of what should be considered ‘uncivilized? … There are enough sources for censored news already, please leave C-SPAN unedited!”

The proposal, if implemented, would have no effect on the network’s coverage of the House and Senate.

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