Indecency Ruling May Affect Violence Bill

Jun 24, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The future of a bill that would give the Federal Communications Commission authority to regulate excessively violent content on television may be complicated by legislative pushes on indecency and the agency’s power to regulate cable TV.
At the request of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for June 26 on the violence issue. The senator has been outspoken in his concern about excessively violent content on TV and wants to let the FCC regulate violent content on cable, satellite and broadcast TV, much as it regulates indecency on broadcast TV.
The Senate hearing is slated to include testimony from FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin, Fox Broadcasting President Peter Liguori and Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe.
The hearing comes two weeks after a federal appeals court decided the FCC doesn’t have the right to impose penalties on broadcast networks that air so-called fleeting expletives.
Sen. Rockefeller’s proposals step up pressure on TV networks to put curbs on violence, indecency and advertising aimed at kids. Legislators upset with the level of TV violence were infuriated by the indecency ruling. How far they will go beyond hitting the bully pulpit and demanding industry action remains to be seen.
The senator had been expected to propose the violence legislation before the hearing. Instead, last week he delayed so he could include an indecency provision in his bill that would counter the court’s fleeting-obscenity ruling, said Steven Broderick, Sen. Rockefeller’s press secretary. The senator also wants to listen to the testimony at the hearing to help him sculpt the bill, Mr. Broderick said.
“The original goal was to regulate excessive violence, including on cable and satellite,” Mr. Broderick said. “The court’s ruling caused us to think, what else do we need to do to carry out the mission [of protecting children]?”
A spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined to comment.
Mr. Broderick said Sen. Rockefeller anticipates a series of hearings this year on TV violence.
“This is an issue the senator and others care deeply about. It’s not just a heartburn that is going to go away,” he said. “The senator is clearly committed to holding hearings and moving ahead with legislation giving the FCC the authority.”
The Parents Television Council, which advocates curbs on obscenity, said the push in Congress is sending a message to media companies.
“As important as the legislative process is the bully pulpit,” said Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs for the Parents Television Council. “The entertainment industry has a lot to answer for.”
While he said he hopes Congress will act on legislation, until a bill is introduced, it’s too early to predict what will come out of the hearings.
The TV violence issue also has arisen in the House. A panel of the House Energy & Commerce Committee heard testimony on the issue last week.
Kyle McSlarrow, president-CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in prepared testimony for a House hearing, questioned the constitutionality of attempts to regulate violent content on cable, saying those efforts wouldn’t work. Other choices like parental controls would be preferable, he said.
“In light of blocking tools available to cable households and the steps taken by cable operators and program networks to ensure that these tools are easily understood and effective, legislation that bars the availability of indecent or violent programming to all adults and children would violate the First Amendment rights of cable operators and programmers,” he said.

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