The broadcast networks have paired with the National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Motion Picture Association of America and others to defend themselves from potential government efforts to crack down on media violence.
A number of networks had already laid the groundwork for that defense by taking aim at the underpinnings of the FCC's recent violence report, a report that suggests that violent TV causes aggressive behavior in kids. The networks questioned the findings in a paper released by the media-backed First Amendment think tank, The Media Institute .
It is also the same group that teamed up to promote the V-chip/ratings system.
The coalition isn't formal, but they have hired big gun Constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe to defend them against an anticipated congressional attempt to expand the definition of indecency to include violence.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), supported by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye ((D-Hawaii), plans to introduce a bill to give the FCC that power. A hearing on the bill is expected sometime in June. It had been scheduled for last week, but may have been postponed given that network executives who might be asked to testify were busy with schedule presentations to advertisers during upfront week in New York.
Tribe is expected to make the media's case at that hearing, whenever it is held.
If the Rockefeller bill is made into law-- a long-shot if past attempts to regulate TV violence are iny gauge-- the FCC commissioners would likely want to channel violent programming to times when kids are less likely to be in the audience, just like it does indecent and profane programming.
The FCC released a report last month that stated TV had gotten more violent, that the evidence indicated that violence had a harmful effect on kids, and the commission was ready to regulate if Congress gave it the go-ahead. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also said he wants cable to offer its programming a la carte to help parents screen out channels they think are not appropriate for their families.
The courts have historically struck down attempts to regulate media violence, which is arguably even harder to define than indecency, because the regulation of it is being fought by most networks in court. The FCC report did not offer up a definition of what kind of violence should be regulated, saying that was Congress' job.
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton says NAB is part of an ad hoc group that includes the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Big Four broadcast networks.
"Our position on the issue is the same as it has always been," he said. "We think responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation on issues of program content."
The networks have been promoting the V-chip/ratings system as the answer to more parental control over content, including pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to a campaign headed by the late MPAA President Jack Valenti to better educate the public.