WASHINGTON — Media violence is back on Congress’ radar screen, and while the focus will likely be on video games, video programming over cable, satellite and broadcast is already part of the conversation on Capitol Hill.
It could be a repeat of Washington’s tough talk (but no action) responses to the gunviolence incidents at Colorado’s Columbine High School; in Aurora, Colo.; at Virginia Tech; and in Tucson, Ariz. — but it could also be something more.
At press time, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, American Cable Association, Motion Picture Association of America and National Association of Broadcasters had all agreed to be part of the conversation — one that will include guns and mental health and culture — about preventing future tragedies like the Dec. 14 school shooting at Newtown, Conn.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 grade-school students and six adults were killed.
Outgoing Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent, renewed his call for a national commission on violence, while Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), still very much in charge of the Commerce Committee, introduced legislation to study the impact of violent video games and video programming. And President Obama, speaking in Newtown, said he would use all the powers of his office to do something to prevent a repeat of the Sandy Hill shootings.
Rockefeller hotlined the bill, meaning it would bypass the committee-markup process and go straight to a floor vote if no senator objected. “We need to look at the violence our kids see every day starting at a young age. By the time children reach 18 years old, they have seen tens of thousands of violent images — on television, on the Internet or [in] video games. As parents, research confirms what we already know — these violent images have a negative impact on our children’s well-being.” (For more from Rockefeller, see Viewpoint.)
Some legislators even used the shootings to buttress their arguments for tightening rules on collecting information online.
Rockefeller’s bill does not go as far as his previous media violence legislative effort, which would have given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to regulate violence as it does indecency. A source speaking on background said the chairman understood even the new, lighter bill had a slim chance to pass with only days left in the present Congress, but he expected Congress would eventually approve the study.
The bill directs the National Academy of Sciences to report to Congress, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission on the impact of violent video on kids’ development and well-being.
The study wouldn’t have to be completed for 18 months, a time frame that sounds like kicking the can down the road again. But Rockefeller is not likely to leave things at just an 18-month study, considering that studies are often characterized as a way to take action without actually taking action. The committee source said the bill was a first step, and Rockefeller would be looking at a host of related issues in the new Congress, though he has not decided just what that next step would be.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Rockefeller was joined by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) at a press conference where the FTC announced updates to child protection laws.
Markey drew a parallel between protecting kids online and in schools, invoking the Sandy Hook massacre. He said protecting kids was brought to the forefront by the shootings, and it was just as important to protect kids online — their new “playground”— as it is to protect them in schools. Barton seconded that.
WASHINGTON — The capital last week saw plenty of activity on the issue of guns:
• Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va., pictured) fast-tracked a bill that would mandate a study of the impact of media violence on children.
• Moving to get out front on the issue, the Hollywood-backed Entertainment Industries Council relaunched an initiative to use TV and the movies to spotlight the consequences of gun violence, providing immediate action in the wake of the call for studies and the inevitable policy debates.
• The video game lobby said it was praying for the victims, but maintained that extensive research has already shown there is no connection between violent entertainment and violence in real life.
• White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that cultural issues could be part of the post-Newtown conversation.
• Citing the tragedy, Common Sense Media asked ESPN, Turner and other sports programmers to temporarily pull promos for violent video games and movies from their sports broadcasts, reiterating a pitch the organization has made before.