Congress and state legislatures should enact restrictions protecting children from violent programming, because violence on TV and in other media has no clear First Amendment protection, FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani said last week.
"The most popular sham objection to protecting children from harmful media influences is the First Amendment," she told the Annenberg Public Policy Center's conference on children and media in Washington. "We do not have to choose between protecting our children and protecting the First Amendment. We can do both."
She suggested that violent TV programming be regulated under the same framework as sexual and other types of objectionable programming, which prohibits broadcast of any obscenity and limits "indecent" programming to 10 p.m.-6 a.m.
Tristani questioned the 1957 Supreme Court decision that limited the definition of obscenity to sexual and excretory activities. History relied on by the court "does not support distinguishing between images of obscene sex and images of obscene violence," she said.
Kids TV advocate Peggy Charren, however, warned that any weakening of First Amendment protections is misguided and more effort should be put into increasing the amount of children's programming. "I think encouraging choice is the way to go," she said during a question-and-answer period following Tristani's speech.
She also said the current restrictions on depictions of sex and bodily functions are questionable.
But Tristani stuck to her position and said the government has a role to play in keeping violent images from children.
Tristani also criticized what she says is the FCC's poor record in enforcing the indecency rules but conceded there is little chance the FCC will toughen its stance any time soon.