The FCC has issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) today to look into the effect of violent television programming and its impact on children (Notice of Inquiry: In the Matter of Violent Television Programming And Its Impact on Children [PDF]). The reason for the NOI is that the House Commerce Committee basically ordered it (Attacking Violence on Television). Of course, this study comes despite the government-mandated V-Chip, which was supposed to solve the problem, if there was one.
Given the ridiculous crackdown on indecent and profane speech, what do you think the chances are that the FCC will take a pass on regulating violent speech?
What exactly is the inquiry about?
Through this proceeding we seek comment and information along the following lines of inquiry. How much violent programming is there, and what are the trends? What are the effects of viewing violent programming on children and other segments of the population? If particular portrayals of violence are more likely to cause deleterious effects than others, what specific kinds of programming should be the focus of any further public policymaking in this area? Should any further public policymaking address all violence or just excessive or gratuitous violence, and how should that be defined? Are the ratings system and the V-chip accomplishing their intended purpose, or are there additional mechanisms that might be developed to control exposure to media violence? Finally, are there legal constraints on either Congress or the Commission to regulate violent programming?
Note what the questions don't mention. This is television in general, not simply broadcast. "We seek specific information concerning how much televised violence there is on broadcast and non-broadcast television and whether the amount of violent programming is increasing or decreasing." Luckily, the study doesn't seem to extend to DVDs and/or videogames, though those might be considered non-broadcast television. Of course, they might sneak in anyway, "How important is exposure to electronic media violence relative to other sources of exposure; i.e.
, does watching Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff in a cartoon have more or less an impact on a childs psyche than reading about Hansel and Gretel forcing a witch into a hot oven in Grimms fairy tales?"
You know, maybe looking into violence in books in on the mark. Television has only been around a half dozen decades or so. Print has been around for centuries, and there is an awful lot of violence associated with the printed word.
This is going to be a heck of a report. Just look at what the FCC is asking: The effects of violent programming, how to define it at multiple levels, how to control exposure, etc. If you read the NOI, each of those broad questions is broken down into at least half a dozen more. Good luck, not.
Of particular importance is that the FCC wants to consider whether to create a "violence" safe harbor as they have with indecent and profane broadcasts. It ought to be fun defining what violence will be prohibited between 6am and 10pm. Also, the FCC didn't mention the safe harbor they created for profane broadcasts. They have a tendency to forget the profane language doctrine they revived a few months ago (FCC Revives Notion of the Profane and Where's the Profanity?). Or maybe there shouldn't be a safe harbor, but a mandatory rating system; you simply make it unlawful for any person to distribute to the public any violent video programming not blockable by electronic means specifically on the basis of its violent content when children are reasonably likely to comprise a substantial portion of the audience.
The FCC is asking about the constitutional issues, but wants to consider whether they can regulate violence as either indecent or obscene speech. Recently, a federal district court rejected those arguments in a case involving videogames, but the FCC frames the questions in such a way that it seems they disagree (Washington's Violent Videogame Law Held Unconstitutional).
Finally, the inquiry will also look into the "positive impact" of certain types of television programming.
We recognize that television programming may have a positive influence on individual behavior, especially educational and informational material directed at children. The literature suggests that consumption of educational television programming correlates positively to childrens school preparedness and may also encourage beneficial social skills and behavioral development. Are there recent studies analyzing the pro-social effects of television programming that we should be aware of? What broadcast or non-broadcast services carry such material? How are parents made aware that such programming is available? [footnotes omitted]
So, after probably hundreds of pages saying how terrible television is, there will be a codicil that it can be educational sometimes. Gee, thanks. I'm sure glad books didn't have to pass muster with the FCC, else we'd have huge reports telling us how bad they were, but with an appendix noting that they might be useful on occasion.
Is this what free speech has become? Figuring out ways we can regulate around the First Amendment?
It isn't surprising that Commissioner Michael Copps has issued a statement applauding this action (Statement of Commissioner Michael J. Copps, Re: Violent Video Programming)
I am pleased that the Commission is launching this proceeding to determine ways that we can tackle violence on the airwaves. It is only unfortunate that it took a request from Members of the House of Representatives for us to consider this important issue. Hundreds of studies over decades document the harmful impact that exposure to graphic and excessive media violence has on the physical and mental health of our children. The US Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and virtually every other leading medical and scientific organization that has studied this issue have reached the same conclusion about the harmful impact of media violence. Yet, the Commission today seems to ignore this wealth of scientific data even going so far as to ask in this Notice whether there are benefits of exposure to televised violence by our children.
It is our job and the one asked of us by the House Members to examine how best to address this most pressing problem. I look forward to a full record on these issues and to an expeditious resolution of this proceeding. Wanton violence on the peoples airwaves has gone unaddressed for too long. That is why Congress is moving on this on a number of fronts.
No bible stories on television for Commissar Copps, since they have violence and it is ridiculous to even ask if there are possible benefits of exposure to televised violence.
Comments are due Sep. 15, with replies on Oct. 15.