WASHINGTON — National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell said two weeks ago that cable operators were willing to be part of the conversation about guns.
That conversation — prompted by the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — began last week at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden. He was tapped by President Obama to head a task force on the issue, and there appeared to be no implied threat to cable or other content.
That situation should become clearer this week. Biden said last week that he planned to provide recommendations for action to the president by Tuesday (Jan. 15).
In addition to Powell, among those at the meeting were National Association of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith and Motion Picture Association of America head Christopher Dodd, both of whom also pledged after the shootings to help be part of the solution to gun violence.
A source familiar with the 2½-hour meeting said it was a friendly discussion, with various associations providing input on what they are doing in terms of ratings and education (public-service announcements) and no questioning of whether the media was serious about being part of the solution. The vice president was also said to be looking for other ideas before he makes his presentation to Obama. “The question now is what actionable items they might consider,” the source said.
The sense going into the meeting was that the White House isn’t looking to pick a fight with the media industry, a source said. There were certainly no warning flares in the official joint statement from those groups following the meeting.
“The entertainment community appreciates being included in the dialogue around the administration’s efforts to confront the complex challenge of gun violence in America,” they said. “This industry has a longstanding commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families. We welcome the opportunity to share that history and look forward to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions.”
Also joining the statement were two other groups represented at the meeting, the Directors Guild of America and the Independent Film & Television Alliance.
That upbeat statement was in contrast to the response by the National Rifle Association to Biden’s meeting with gun-rights advocates earlier in the day: “We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” the group said following the meeting.
The Federal Communications Commission traditionally has not regulated violent broadcast-TV content, as it lacks the authority it has over indecent and profane content. Legislation would be needed for the FCC to regulate cable content for any reason.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.) in December introduced a draft of a bill to study the impact of violent video content, including video games and programming, on children, with a particular emphasis on games. But the senator has not signaled an interest in reintroducing legislation to empower the FCC to regulate violence, as he once proposed, or to extend that authority beyond broadcasting.
The White House is talking with media companies about violent content, but has not been adversarial.