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FCC Asks Congress for Censorship Guidance

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Though the traditional role of the FCC has been to regulate the radio spectrum in the United States in the best interests of the public, they are still a partisan government agency that can, and under Republican leadership often does, stray wildly outside of their mandate in attempts to regulate morality for the rest of us.

Such authority when it comes to obscenity has been recognized as constitutional by the Supreme Court, but that vague definition has only applied to naughty words and naught bits on the naked body. That is up until now.

The FCC under Republican leadership has long been interested in censoring violence along with strong language and other "adult" content on television, but going after violence is really stretching the law further than it was intended to reach.

Rather than making unconstitutional attempts to curtail TV violence during prime time on its own, the FCC is calling on Congress to update its mandate, giving it broad new powers to censor the airwaves not just with network television, but cable and satellite as well.

In a recently released report titled "In the Matter of Violent Television Programming and its Impact on Children," it has become very obvious that the FCC is eschewing its mandate to regulate the airwaves in the physical since and is trying to reinvent itself as a regulator of content instead.

It could also force broadcasters to "time channel" violent content -- keep it off airwaves during hours when children are likely viewing. The FCC regs bar indecent content from broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

"Congress could implement a time channeling solution and/or mandate some other form of consumer choice in obtaining video programming, such as ... family tiers or an a la carte basis," the report concludes. It also says that industry could voluntarily restrict violent programming, thus precluding need for government regulation.

Consumers already have all the control they will ever need in the V-chip, a special piece of circuitry that is built into every television set made in the United States since the Clinton presidency. It allows parents to set limits on what programs children can view based on the industries universal voluntary rating system.

The report addresses the V-chip with this choice bit of reasoning that ultimately destroys their own call to arms.

In this Report, we find that although the V-chip and TV ratings system appear useful in the abstract, they are not effective at protecting children from violent content for a number of reasons. In particular, we find that the TV ratings system has certain weaknesses that prevent parents from screening out much programming that they find objectionable.

The report is correct, the voluntary rating system can't filter out every single little thing that ultra-conservative parents may find objectionable, that's just life. Not everyone has the has same interests and objections, so if the rating system were reduced to the lowest common denominator, the screen would be blank because nothing would survive scrutiny. History has taught us that letting the federal government come up with definitions such as these is the worst possible solution because it guarantees the strictest possible censorship.

The reality is that the voluntary ratings system works just fine for 90% of the television watching population and the V-chip is the single most effective tool parents have to utilize that system because it is built into every television set already.

Don't mistake these supposed attempts at protecting children with the real underlying interests here: eliminating violence from television altogether. And that is censorship, plain and simple.

The report stated that, while causal links between TV violence and negative effects on kids do not exist, "a strong correlation" does, and that existing blocking and filtering controls are either "of limited effectiveness" or "insufficiently available." It leaves definition of violence to Congress.

I can't help but wonder who authored this report and what their methodology was. Not one television manufactured in the U.S. for the past seven years has been without a V-chip, the only complaint I've ever heard about the V-chip is that some tech-savvy kids discovered that the TV manual includes instructions for resetting the password for forgetful parents. Who would have thought such evil and subversive information would be so freely available for kids to access...laying on the living room coffee table? Step 2 for the FCC: regulate TV manuals.

Honestly, any kid who has the brains to figure out how to reset the V-chip's password is probably going to be old enough to watch virtually anything on TV in between the hours of 6am and 10pm (with the exception of 24 I suppose) regardless of what the parents think, and if it is really such a huge problem, maybe their parents should put some thought into spending more time with their kids instead of letting them sit on the couch all by themselves for 5 hours a day.

You can read the entire FCC report by downloading this PDF. Additional coverage by Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

Contrary to the FCC report, no study has found a direct link between television and/or game violence, and harm to minors.

Martin said the FCC based its decision on a plethora of evidence, most notably a 2001 report by then-Surgeon General David Satcher.

And what the report actually said...

"Taken together, findings suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence," Satcher said when he released the report.

Sorry Commissioner Martin, as Bill O'Reilly is fond if saying, this is a no-spin zone.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.