Policy

Sen. Fights TV Violence

3/09/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

Washington— TV content critic Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said last Monday that action by Congress or the Federal Communications Commission is urgently needed to curb violent television programming.

“The broadcasters have already tried and failed in their attempts at self-regulation. The bottom line is, if they can’t or won’t do it, then the federal government must step up to the plate,” Rockefeller said in a prepared statement.

Rockefeller, author of legislation (S. 616) last congress that called for the regulation of violent cable programming, spoke out after Republican FCC member Robert McDowell suggested that he favored market solutions over regulation in tackling excessively violent TV fare.

“McDowell’s suggestion is shortsighted,” Rockefeller said.

Crackdown
Rockefeller’s 2005 TV Violence Bill
Source: S. 616, May 14, 2005
FCC has 60 days to say if ratings and blocking technologies work to shield indecent and violent programming.
If not, FCC has 270 days to ban violent programming on broadcast TV, probably from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The FCC would also be required “to adopt measures” to protect children in cable homes from violent and indecent programming.
Premium and pay-per-view cable would be exempt. The FCC has discretion to exempt news and sports.
The FCC needs to define “gratuitous and excessively violent video programming.”

In recent years, the FCC has been cracking down on TV stations that violate its indecency rules. Last June, Congress enacted a law that raised indecency fines from $32,500 to $325,000 per offense. Along with Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Rockefeller is backing the effort to empower the FCC to regulate indecent and violent programming on free and pay-TV.

Rockefeller considered offering his expansive TV regulation bill last summer as an amendment to major telecommunications legislation, but, in the end, he declined to do so.

A recent Parents Television Council study found that TV violence was up 45% during the 8 p.m. family hour from 1998 to 2006. Dan Isett, PTC director of corporate and government affairs, said regulatory legislation would lose steam if the industry reduced the bloodletting in primetime.

“If that doesn’t happen, and it seems to me clear that the industry has no intention of instituting any meaningful regulation, then all options should be on the table. Certainly, Rockefeller’s bill would be part of that process,” Isett said.

Two weeks ago, McDowell spoke to the National Association of Broadcasters about the regulation of TV violence, saying it would be difficult to define and control in a manner consistent with First Amendment free-speech rights. Parents, he added, were gaining more control over TV in their effort to filter unwanted channels.

“Overall, I think in the long run, technology and competition are going to solve this issue for parents,” McDowell said.

The cable industry believes content ratings and channel-blocking technology “allow viewers to effectively manage TV viewing in their home without government intervention,” said Brian Dietz, National Cable & Telecommunications Association vice president of communications.

Soon after Rockefeller’s statement circulated, McDowell issued his own statement last Monday, saying he was “extremely concerned” about inappropriate content on TV. McDowell said he spoke because “a recent press report” on his NAB comments had “mischaracterized” his position.

“More should be done to protect our children from indecent and violent material. While the market is developing technological solutions that may help parents control the television content that their children view, as always, Congress may deem it necessary to place restrictions on the broadcast of violent content,” McDowell said.

The backdrop for the Rockefeller-McDowell exchange was an unreleased FCC study on TV violence sought by dozens of House members in March 2004. They asked the FCC to finish the study by January 2005.

Among other things, the FCC study is expected to conclude that the a la carte sale of cable networks would empower parents to filter violent and other unwanted content, a strongly held belief of FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

Before sending the report to Congress, Martin wants the other four FCC members to vote on it, which to some extent would put each official on record in the a la carte debate. But a vote isn’t legally required for Martin to transmit the report to Congress.

In his statement, Rockefeller vowed to reintroduce his bill that would, for the first time, provide the FCC with the authority to regulate indecent content on cable and satellite TV, and for the first time regulate violent content on broadcast, cable and satellite. News and sports programming would be exempt at the FCC’s discretion.

“Violent programming on television has reached dangerous proportions and conventional wisdom tells us it’s only going to get worse,” Rockefeller said.

McDowell indicated that crafting a definition of violence would be difficult.

“How do we define what is violent? I think that is going be the toughest issue to get answered,” McDowell said. “Any [FCC report] that goes to Congress is going to raise more questions than it answers.”

September