FCC Considers Curbing Violent TV

Chairman Seeks to Broaden Beyond Broadcast to Include Cable, Satellite

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Communications Commission is weighing whether it can go beyond regulating profanity and indecency on TV and include limits on violence.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has announced he will introduce legislation aimed at limiting violence in the media.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has announced he will introduce legislation aimed at limiting violence in the media. Credit: AP

In response to a request three years ago from 39 congressmen, the FCC drafted a report concluding that the Constitution does allow it to restrict the airing of violence, and that violent media content can have an impact on children's behavior.

Not just broadcast
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said this week he believes any regulation of violence should extend beyond broadcast TV to cover cable and satellite as well. "We can't just deal with the three or four broadcast channels," he told the Associated Press. "We have to be looking at what's on cable as well."

The FCC's indecency rules apply only to broadcasters and are less stringent late at night.

The report makes clear the FCC could direct cable companies to offer packages of nonviolent programming or let viewers choose channels a la carte. But the report does say the FCC would need congressional direction and would have to carefully define "exceedingly violent programming that is harmful to children." Some broadcast and First Amendment groups say crafting a definition would be difficult; the FCC would have to distinguish between realistic and cartoonish violence and decide how much violence to allow in scenes of situations such as war.

Legislation limiting violence
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has announced he will introduce legislation aimed at limiting violence in the media.

Representatives from the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association wouldn't comment on the report itself because they hadn't seen it, but Brian Dietz, an NCTA spokesman, disputed any need for to mandate how consumers can subcribe to cable channels.

"The cable industry understands it has an important responsibility to protect viewers from unwanted TV programming, but we believe that consumers are the best judge of which content is appropriate for their household," Mr. Dietz said. "That's why cable operators provide customers with easy-to-use parental controls and cable networks utilize the TV ratings system to alert viewers of a program's rating and content, including violent content.

"These controls allow viewers to effectively manage TV viewing in their home without government intervention," he said. "A mandated a la carte system is unnecessary government intrusion in a vibrant marketplace that would result in higher prices, fewer choices and less diversity in programming."
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