Who Should Choose What We Watch?

Let moms and dads teach kids how to be smart TV viewers

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court may both broaden the right to own a handgun and narrow the right to free speech. How did we get here, and why do we need government bureaucrats telling us what we can and can't watch on television?

As with so much in our current political dialogue, the government's effort to broaden its regulation over television broadcasts is sold to us as the only possible option to protect our children. As a mother, a taxpayer and a free-speech advocate, it seems absurd to me that we don't look to parents—instead of the federal government—to decide what our children watch on television.

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear what will likely be a landmark case involving the FCC and Fox Broadcasting. The Court will have to decide whether the FCC overstepped its bounds by levying huge fines for the broadcast of “fleeting expletives” uttered during live broadcasts. I'm not defending things like the inadvertent airing of foul words. I am encouraging all of us to take a step back and realize that the government's proposed cure is much worse than the disease.

Rather than immediately looking to expand the government's power over artistic expression, let's look to parents and families. Broadcasters can and do provide viewers with information about program content. Parents can use that information to monitor what programming their children watch, or they may employ technological means to limit the programs to which their children have access.

Instead of rushing to regulate, let's ensure that our children are media-literate. Kids should learn how to sift through the barrage of media available to them via television and radio, in print and over the Internet. Kids need to learn to discern what's fact and fiction, what behavior is worthy of emulation and what should be avoided.

Those are personal decisions that government isn't in a position to make. We need to become a media-literate society, not a censored one.

My organization, The Creative Coalition, represents actors, directors, writers, producers and others involved in creating intellectual property—content for film, television, fine arts and the Internet, just to name a few areas.

Just as I do with my daughters, members of The Creative Coalition take responsibility for looking after their children and making sure that their kids are viewing, listening and “ingesting” media that is appropriate. Together with others in the arts community and entertainment industry, we believe that the government should be more focused on giving parents, teachers and caregivers the resources so children will be informed and literate media consumers.

Parents recognize that this is their responsibility and overwhelmingly reject government interference. A survey conducted by Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research and Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that 87% of parents choose family responsibility over governmental regulation. According to The Pew Internet & American Life Project, 77% of parents already have rules for what TV shows their kids can watch. When given a choice between government regulation and parental responsibility, Americans overwhelmingly choose parental responsibility and reject government control.

The Creative Coalition hopes the Supreme Court will recognize that the FCC has clearly overstepped its bounds. Rather than narrow our freedom of speech, we should broaden parents' access to tools needed to make their own informed choices about media. Let's empower our next generation to understand the media, not take the media away from them.

When kids fight with their big brothers about what to watch on television, the “big brother” shouldn't be the federal bureaucracy.