The FCC has released its long-awaited report to Congress on TV violence. It concludes that "action should be taken to address violent programming." For his part, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin continued to push cable to provide channels a la carte.
The FCC concludes in the report--
and was due to Congress over two years ago--that a ratings system and blocking technology impose lesser speech burdens than other violence regulation, the FCC is skeptical the V-chip/ratings system will ever "fully serve the government's interest in promoting parental supervision and protecting the well being of minors."
It also concludes that cable's parental controls are not sufficiently available to be considered "an effective solution at this time."
Among its recommendations to Congress are reimposing the family viewing hour, channeling violent programming to a "safe harbor" as it does indecency and cable a la carte.
"Parents need more tools to protect children from excessively violent programming," the chairman said. "They need tools that address the violent programming on all platforms--broadcast, cable and satellite."
Although Congress asked the FCC for a definition of violence, the commission threw that task back to the legislature. "We totally punted," said FCC Commission Jonathan Adelstein, who was critical of the final product. He agreed to parts, but did not give his approval to the whole report.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he thought it was a strong report, and that other commissioners had strengthened it. "It outlines that the commission, on a bipartisan, unanimous basis concludes there is a legitimate concern about the fact that exposer to violence in the media can lead to aggressive behavior in children, a unanimous vote that says that the current blocking technologies and ratings seem to be insufficient, and that parents need to have more tools."
When asked whether a perfected V-chip/ratings/channel blocking regime wouldn't be the least restrictive means of regulating TV violence, Martin said he thought a la carte was. "I personally believe the least restrictive means would be allowing people to pick and choose the channels they want., that a la carte would be the least restrictive means.
Speech regulation is held to a higher standard by the courts than other regulation with requirements that it be the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. When asked whether he thought violence regs could end up in court like the indecency regs, he said that was certainly likely. He continued that the possibility of litigation should not dissuade the FCC from trying to do something.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who plans to introduce a bill to give the FCC the power to regulate violence as it does indecency, agreed. He called called the report "substantive" and said he would review it and see what could be incorporated into his bill.
"With an eye toward what will pass constitutional muster, the FCC should be commended for tackling this tough assignment and working together to produce meaningful and substantive recommendations,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “They have put themselves on record as being committed to empowering parents and giving them more control over the TV programming coming into their homes.”
Commissioner Robert McDowell said he wished the study were more thorough and called the report a "well-intentioned, if not complete, first step toward launching a new national dialog."
He suggested the report did not sufficiently address the role of parents in protecting their children or "sufficiently brief Congress on the full range of tools available already," saying "I hope our report does not lull some into thinking that government action alone is the answer to the television violence pandemic.
McDowell also said Congress should confine itself to broadcasting, not cable, saying that the report's review of court decisions upholding its regulation of indecent content was confined to broadcast television. He said that other suggestions, like mandated a la carte, "would require regulation of non-broadcast media," saying that "the Commission has not offered sufficient legal analysis to support broader regulation."
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association was quick to defend its parental controls and to take aim at a la carte.
“While we haven’t seen the FCC report, the cable industry understands it has an important responsibility to protect viewers from unwanted TV programming but we believe that consumers are the best judge of which content is appropriate for their household, " said spokesman Brian Dietz. "That’s why cable operators provide customers with easy to use parental controls that allow viewers to block programs based on ratings and content, and cable networks utilize the TV ratings system to alert viewers of a program’s rating and content....Simple sounding solutions, such as a la carte regulation of cable TV packages, are misguided and would endanger cable’s high-quality family friendly programming, leaving parents and children with fewer viewing options.”
The American Civil Liberties Union didn't like what it saw: "The FCC's recommendations are political pandering," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "The government should not replace parents as decision makers in America's living rooms.
"There are some things the government does well, but deciding what is aired and when on television is not one of them. Parents already have many tools to protect their children, including blocking programs and channels, changing the channel, or turning off the television. Government should not parent the parents."
NBC saw the violence regulation effort as a threat to its and others programming: "Although we have not yet seen the report," the network said in a statement. "We strongly believe that by regulating violent content without clear, objective, and consistent standards the FCC will in effect threaten the wide range of programming enjoyed by American audiences, including the two-thirds of U.S. TV households that have no children under 18. The minority of U.S. homes with children have a wealth of very effective tools - including detailed program ratings, the V-chip, and cable and satellite blocking technologies - to allow parents to control what their children watch on television."