Washington-As furor builds over a critical government report on the marketing of violent materials to children, the Senate Commerce Committee overwhelmingly approved legislation to keep kids' television sets free of the stuff of bad dramas.
The committee voted, 16-2, on Wednesday to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) that would banish "violent programming" on television to hours when children are not likely to be watching.
The vote marks the fourth time the panel has passed the legislation since 1995. The measure was voted down, 60-39, last year, the most recent instance in which it reached the Senate floor.
"As President Reagan said, here we go again," Hollings said, citing numerous hearings on media violence. "The industry in its earliest days, and continues today, to know and understand and prosper under the auspices of 'Violence pays.'"
The Hollings bill would prevent networks from airing violent segments at times when the Federal Communications Commission determines that children are likely to comprise a "substantial portion of the audience." Premium cable programming would be exempt.
The FCC would define what constitutes excessive violence.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who abstained, said he objected to allowing unelected commissioners decide what can be broadcast.
It "is impossible to prospectively define what constitutes 'violent' programming in a way that will not prohibit the transmission ofSaving Private RyanorSchindler's List," he said.
A Federal Trade Commission report on Sept. 11 addressed marketing practices, and said film, music and video-game distributors make "little effort" to limit access of violent material to children.
Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), one of two committee members who voted against the bill, said the measure would overreach the FTC findings.
"The moment you shift from looking at marketing to the definition of violence.that's where I'm stuck," he said. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) cast the other no vote.
Questions about vagueness were raised. "Some industries will say this is not [gratuitous] violence," said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), referring to materials that the FCC would restrict. The bill could be "heading toward litigation," he said.
But safe-harbor provisions would be implemented only if the FCC finds that the current ratings system and the V-chip are ineffective.
Hollings said the bill's approach is constitutional. "This has nothing to do with the content," he said.
It is unlikely the bill would become law this session. There is no companion legislation in the House and no immediate plan to bring the bill to the Senate floor, Davis said.
The Commerce Committee has scheduled a Sept. 27 hearing for motion-picture executives to comment on television violence and the FTC report.
States News Service