Report Urges FCC to Regulate TV Violence

The Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007; 5:58 AM

WASHINGTON -- Television networks are free to sprinkle their programs with shootings, slashings, torture and other gore because the government has no regulatory authority over violent programming. But a draft report being circulated at the Federal Communications Commission says Congress can change that, without violating the First Amendment.

The long-overdue report suggests Congress could craft a law that would let the agency regulate violent programming much like it regulates sexual content and profanity _ by barring it from being aired during hours when children may be watching, for example.

"In general, what the commission's report says is that there is strong evidence that shows violent media can have an impact on children's behavior and there are some things that can be done about it," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday.

The issue is bipartisan. Martin, a Republican, gave a joint interview to The Associated Press with Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps.

"The pressure to do something on this is building right now," Copps said, noting that TV violence comes up regularly during media ownership hearings he conducts across the country. "People really feel strongly about this issue all across this land. This is not a red state or a blue state issue."

The report also suggests that cable and satellite TV could be subjected to an "a la carte" regime that would let viewers choose their channels, a measure long supported by Martin.

"We can't just deal with the three or four broadcast channels _ we have to be looking at what's on cable as well" Martin said.

The report cites studies that suggest violent programming can lead to "short-term aggressive behavior in children," according to an agency source who described the report and asked not to be named because it has not yet been approved.

The recommendations are sure to alarm executives in the broadcast and cable industries, members of the creative community and First Amendment advocates.

"Will it count on the news?" asked Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media. "Will it count on news magazines like '60 Minutes' and 'Dateline'? What about hockey games when the gloves come off and people start punching each other?"

Rintels said such rules would create "huge gray areas of censored content."

"The fact that it's difficult should not take this issue off the table," Copps said, when asked about the potential difficulty.

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