The FCC Wants To Kill Your TV
In the name of saving your children.
When the government announces a desire to "protect" children, what it's usually got on its mind is new ways of controlling adults.
In response to a request from members of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday released its study of the effects of violent television programming on children and the legal feasibility of regulating such content.
The study confesses that the FCC's previous interventions designed to shield children from violent content have failed spectacularly. Since 2000, all new televisions with screens 13 inches and larger have had to include FCC mandated V-chips that read the "voluntary" rating applied to programs by producers. (The "V" stands for "violence.") By manipulating V-chip settings, parents can block programs they deem too violent, too sexual, or too crude for their children to watch. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in 2004 found that only 20 percent of parents who know they have a V-chip-capable set have ever used the technology. That number is probably high. In a Slate piece, Thomas Hazlett recounts a study in which 110 families with children were given new V-chipped TV sets, and most got extensive operating instructions. At the end of one year, 77 families reported that they'd never tried the device, while just 8 percent claimed to be using it.
Rather than interpreting the general snubbing of the V-chip as a cue that parents don't yearn for greater government participation in their viewing schedules, the FCC concludes that the V-chip system—which it designed—is "of limited effectiveness in protecting children from violent television content." The FCC study indicates that the V-chip is too hard to use, too hidden from users, and the "voluntary" ratings system too forgiving of violent and sexual content to be good screening agents. The FCC notes one unintended consequence of the "voluntary" ratings system: Some young viewers rely on them to find explicitly sexual and violent programs. It's "Daddy, I really want to see that R-rated movie" all over again.
When Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and 38 other House members contacted the FCC, they wanted its opinion of whether legislation restricting excessively violent programming could be written that would pass constitutional review. Not a problem, replies the FCC, citing the laws and regulations that sequester sexually explicit or "indecent" programming into the 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. "safe harbor" in the name of protecting children. The commission continues:
We also believe that, if properly defined, excessively violent programming, like indecent programming, occupies a relatively low position in the hierarchy of First Amendment values because it is of "slight social value as a step to truth."
The commission concludes that, oh yes, let's expand the FCC's power to regulate broadcaster content with a new law, but cautions Congress on the difficulty of actually defining excessive violence. One person's example of gratuitous media violence is another person's idea of a film classic, a fantastic war documentary, or a brilliant newscast from an urban riot. But far from being daunted by the perpetual needlework of OK'ing one kind of violence because it's artistic, historical, or newsworthy but nixing another as too wanton, the FCC appears to relish the idea of refereeing all television programming everywhere. Imagine that, a federal agency keen on increasing its oversight powers!
The Supreme Court decided in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that the government could regulate "indecent" broadcasts because the medium was "uniquely pervasive," that is broadcasts "extend into the privacy of the home and it is impossible completely to avoid." (What, no off switches on those radios and televisions?) The cherry on the top of the Supreme Court's decision was that broadcasts were "uniquely accessible to children."