At first glance, you’d think that conservative “family values” groups would support a policy that lets them decide which TV programs come into their homes. Disney Channel and “The 700 Club” — yes; MTV and Comedy Central — no.

But it turns out there is a serious split among these groups. The split centers on a policy proposal now stuck in Congress to “unbundle” cable channels (which are now packaged into pre-selected tiers) and allow consumers to choose, a la carte, which channels they want to pay for.

Supporting the a la carte policy are groups such as Concerned Women for America and Parents Television Council, who believe parents should not be forced to pay for programs they don’t approve of or let their children watch. On the other side are the Christian Broadcasting Network and major cable companies, who stand to lose economically if the programs they own and produce aren’t guaranteed wide distribution.

Christian broadcasters preach against indecency on TV, but they’re worried that if consumers get to choose their channels, only the devout will choose them. Their public argument, however, makes little mention of the bottom line. Instead, religious broadcasters argue that they need delivery into homes that haven’t chosen their programming in order to save lives. They claim that desperate souls discover their programs while randomly clicking the remote — and are transformed.

Maybe so. But it’s a strange alliance that pits the Christian Broadcasting Network, TimeWarner, and News Corp against Morality in Media, the American Family Association, and the Salvation Army.

In fact, the issue of a la carte versus bundled cable programming is a complex one — filled with questions that go beyond religious ones to economic, technological, and social matters. Large cable companies own many of the bundled channels they carry, and so have a strong incentive to guarantee their wide distribution. Arrayed against them are the big telephone companies, which boast networks with enormous capacity and flexibility, including potentially lucrative video systems, and so they support a la carte.

Consumer and civic groups are also split. Some support a la carte, claiming it would be less expensive and more empowering, while others oppose it, fearing that minority-oriented programming would not be carried by enough homes to survive. The upshot: competing bits of legislation are mired in congressional gridlock.

Yet, in the midst of this confusion are millions of Americans who want to raise their children right and are worried about declining values. Though there's much on TV they don't like, their concerns go beyond wardrobe malfunctions and bad words. A new research poll by the Faith & Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress shows that voters are most concerned about materialism, self-interest and unethical behavior in society. And they strongly desire a government that focuses on the common good, and the basic dignity and decency of all Americans.

Specifically, the poll found that:

  • 71 percent of voters strongly agree that "Americans are becoming too materialistic," including 71 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and 72 percent of Republicans. (92 percent total agree)
  • 68 percent of voters strongly agree that the "government should be committed to the common good and put the public’s interest above the privileges of the few." (85 percent total agree)
  • 73 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Independents, and 67 percent of Republicans strongly agree with a common good focus for government.
  • A similar percentage of voters (68 percent) strongly agree that "government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all, and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America." (89 percent total agree)

Hmmm. A strong public desire for decency, dignity and the common good. Now there's a polestar Congress should focus on when considering any new legislation.

For more information on the poll, see:

For more information on CAP's Faith and Progressive Policy initiative:

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