NCTA: Cable Protected from Violence Regs

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TV-violence regulations applied to cable operators would violate the First Amendment even if their justification was to shield children from harmful programming, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said late Friday.

The NCTA said the Federal Communications Commission currently lacks the authority to regulate violent cable programming, adding that any plan to do so would have to originate in Congress.

But the trade group claimed that even “Congress would itself be pre-empted from taking such action by the First Amendment.”

The FCC is studying TV violence at the request of Congress. The agency floated a proposal that would ban violent programming between 6 a.m.-10 p.m. on both cable and over-the-air television -- the same hours when indecent content is banned on radio and TV, but not on cable and satellite.

Regulation of TV violence, the NCTA said, would involve content-based restrictions, which the courts have said must pass the highest level of scrutiny.

A federal law would encounter problems because it would have difficulty defining violence in the first instance and even more difficulty distinguishing harmful violence from benign violence, the association added.

Efforts to ban the distribution of violent TV until after 10 p.m., when children are not expected to be watching -- the so-called safe-harbor approach -- would not fare any better. Because parents may block individual cable channels, the safe harbor would not constitute the “least restrictive means” demanded by the courts, the NCTA said.