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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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July 28, 2004

FCC Launches Inquiry Into Violence on Television

Posted by Ernest Miller

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?

Read on...

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 child’s psyche than reading about Hansel and Gretel forcing a witch into a hot oven in Grimm’s 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 children’s 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?

Commissioner Copps

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 people’s 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.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Freedom of Expression


1. steve on July 29, 2004 03:56 PM writes...

It would be nice if Mr. Miller gave a suggestion on what Mr. Powell could do to lower the violence level in america. The FCC cannot control everything, but it is trying to do something with that which it controls. "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
Mr. Miller ridicules the anti-profanity efforts of the FCC. If that fucking asshole had cunts at
home, they can suck my cock. Now that was unpleasant wasn't it? I bet he would object to being spoken to in that way.
Why should it be OK for the tv to do it?
I am in favor of adults being able to do adult things. I am also in favor of protecting children from doing adult things. I am sure that NAMBLA agrees with Mr. Miller, that there should be not boundries on speech or behaviour with regards to children.
I am also saddened by the ratings creep on movies.
Today's PG films would have gotten a much higher rating 20 years ago.
Just give me simple, consistant ratings, I will keep my kids out of them.

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2. clarese portofino on July 29, 2004 07:05 PM writes...

Good lord, at what point do we as a nation stop letting government interfere in our lives? This nannyism is nausiating, and it seems that it will get worse as time progresses. The root of the problem is our fellow citizens who are child centric in nature. They seem to think that the entire world needs to be baby proofed. Even playgrounds are overdone in terms of "safety". When I grew up, no one wore bike helmets, everything was metal, and newsflash, many of us survived it. Many of us grew up on violence on television, again plenty of us survived it, and have no lasting effects. Besides there is the V-chip, learn to use it and regulate within your household accordingly. At what point are the parents accountable for what their kids watch? As for those of us who are child-free we will watch what we wish, and complain when we are stuck in a late night theater with a howling baby that should be "safe" at home with their indoctrinating parents.

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3. Chris on July 29, 2004 08:14 PM writes...

John is %100 wrong when he states that "today's PG films would have gotten a much higher rating 20 years ago." You know the movie "Jaws" was rated PG when it was released in 1975 and it is extremely bloody even by today's PG-13 standards. I was 7-years-old at the time and it became my favorite movie. I subsequently went on to become a fan of horror movies, particularly the "splatter" genre of the 70s and early 80s. guess what? I turned into a normal, responsible, happy adult! Today I am constantly amazed how even cartoon films that would have gotten an obvious G-rating 20 years ago, but, because of our hysterical, reactionary attitudes about the effects of "violence" on children, now recieve a PG or PG-13 rating simply bacuse an animated character or two meet an untimely death. We live in a society that mollycoddles kids more than ever before, and it's getting out of hand.

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4. Joseph MacAdam on July 29, 2004 09:09 PM writes...

Jesus tap-dancing Christ! What's it going to take to shut up these people?

Here's the bottom line. Human beings are violent animals. We need outlets for our natural aggression, otherwise we snap and bring an automatic weapon to work or duct-tape a dozen stick of TNT to ourselves...

Violent images on TV doesn't make us want to commit violent acts... for the most part. Sure, if you expose a child to violence without teaching them the ramification of it, of course they'll grow up to be the next Jeffry Dahlmer! But that's why it's the f*cking parents's responsibility to guide their bastard offspring, not a group of assholes who don't see the general public as anything other than statistics and whatnot...

Me need gore! Me need blood! Me need images of maniacs running wild with a power tool! Me need see the darker side of humanity in an easy to digest package! Without it, all I have is the limitless power of my imagination feeding me thoughts of torture and icky badness that could manifest itself into a period of homicidal rage!

Yes, I'm a hippy liberal douche, but I think that people should make their own choices with out primal instincts. We have rage, we have lust, and we have a need to express it! TV, movies, music, video games, all forms of media are there to tantalize our need for such things. When you prohibit such things, it's like cutting out vitamin C or iron from one's diet! They break down and become weak... or dangerous...

You can take the cat out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the cat... or something...

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5. Justin on August 4, 2004 05:25 PM writes...

I'm wondering when the parents will take responsibility for their kids' television habits. If it is such a huge concern, why can't the parents get involved in their child's life and say "hey, you can't watch/play that." It boggles me how irresponsible people are wanting to be. "I work too a 9-5 job and I don't have time to be with my child." Bull, after 5pm is the best time to get involved with your kids. When are people going to realize that there is always time to be involved?

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