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Violence Report Leaves Questions

Apr 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Few if any of the legislators and interest groups who responded to the Federal Communications Commission’s long-anticipated report about violence on television last week defended the level of rough content on the air.

Instead, they disagreed on how to address it.

Some say leave it to Congress, others say leave it to the viewers, but most expect members of the TV industry will step up self-policing to handle it themselves.

Critics of violent media praised the FCC for suggesting in its report last week that current content ratings and the V-chip aren’t doing enough to protect kids from “excessively violent” content and urging Congress to act.

The report said Congress could create a violence regulatory scheme that would pass court muster and could craft a definition of “excessively violent.” The FCC cited past court approval of its indecency regulations as precedent for restricting violence.

The FCC offered a list in its report of potential actions Congress could take for both broadcast and cable, but didn’t recommend one over the other. Among those it included were limiting violent programming to certain times of day, creating a family hour, imposing government labels for violent content and creating a la carte cable tiers.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., praised the FCC report and indicated he would be developing violence legislation, likely to be proposed in the next several weeks.

But any legislation to regulate violence on television will be fiercely fought, media industry and congressional sources said.

Broadcasters, the cable industry and some First Amendment groups questioned whether regulating violent content aimed at adults in order to prevent kids from seeing it would be constitutional. They argued that violence was best handled by parents using the V-chip.

However, many agree that the report’s findings could pressure the industry to act voluntarily to at least educate the public about the resources available to help viewers make their best programming choices.

Statements issued by CBS, News Corp. and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said viewers are the best judge of what is appropriate to view, and that they have the proper tools to decide what to watch.

Key legislators said last week that self-policing by the media would be welcome.

“There are constitutional protections with American speech and programming,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich. “We are going to have to see how this plays out.”

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who sponsored the V-chip legislation that the FCC said inadequate, called on the industry to “redouble its efforts” to educate consumers on the V-chip and channel blocking and “do more to assure parents that shows are appropriately rated for use with the V-chip.”

Meanwhile, some consumer groups said the FCC’s action demonstrated the time had come to stop talking and start acting; they urged hearings and legislation.

“We desperately hope that this report will achieve what has heretofore been fruitless: To motivate the industry to step up to the plate, take responsibility for its product and fix a problem,” said Parents Television Council president Tim Winter.