FCC Eyes New Limits on TV Violence

An unreleased report from the Federal Communications Commission hints at a new initiative to curb violence on TV. Frank Ahrens, who co-wrote an article on the report for Tuesday's Washington Post, discusses the initiative.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The government may try again to regulate violence on TV because so many people watch hit shows like "CSI."

(Soundbite of TV show, "CSI")

Unidentified Man: I'll kill you.

(Soundbite of grunts, shouting)

CHADWICK: Ouch. The Washington Post reports today on recommendations that will be sent to Congress next week. The Federal Communications Commission is going to suggest new powers for the federal government to allow it to control violence on television. Ultimately, the idea is to protect children.

Reporter Frank Ahrens co-wrote the story.

Frank, welcome back to DAY TO DAY. What is the FCC going to recommend?

Mr. FRANK AHRENS (Reporter, Washington Post): The FCC is going to tell Congress that it has the authority to pass new laws that would enable a federal agency -in this case, presumably the FCC - to regulate violent content on basic cable television. Now, for years, obviously, the FCC has regulated indecent content on over-the-air television and radio, but this would extend the authority into basic cable channels like MTV and Spike and USA Network, which would be unprecedented.

CHADWICK: Well, how then does the FCC claim that it has the power to do this?

Mr. AHRENS: The FCC can only do what Congress tells it to do - passes the laws. The FCC concluded this study on violence. It was a long study - two, three years in the making - that Congress requested. And the FCC has concluded that it believes that if Congress passes new laws, those laws will pass legal tests, enabling the FCC to regulate violent content. A lot of people think that is not true. In fact, one TV executive told us such laws would be airmailed back to the FCC. They wouldn't withstand legal tests.

CHADWICK: And there would be plenty of legal tests. Lots of other things to figure out. For instance, how do you define violence?

Mr. AHRENS: Absolutely. There's two big hurdles here. Please remember that we're coming up on a national election, that this is a very politically charged issue. No one wants to be in favor of violence on TV, right? However, when you're looking at something as sweeping as this, something as politically intrusive as this, there's plenty of case law. For instance, an analogy is video games. Over the past 10 years, lots of state and local municipalities have tried to regulate content on video games, saying they're too violent, and each one of those has been returned. It's like a 10-for-10 sequence - winning series by the courts saying no, you can't do this. It's impingent on free speech.

CHADWICK: So what do you think is going to happen when this report gets to Congress next week? I mean, is L.A. going to shutdown? What - people out here are going to be worried.

Mr. AHRENS: One of the chief advocates of cracking down on violence on TV is Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia. He's on the Senate Commerce Committee. And the head of the Senate Commerce Committee, Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, has said he's receptive to some sort of legislation. Some TV executives I'd spoke to yesterday said they thought such legislation would sail through the Senate, unclear what would happen when it got to the House. And, well, who knows? Maybe the president would sign such a bill, but then the legal tests would line up. Then all - every network and every cable company would take this to court, saying that it's unconstitutional.

CHADWICK: Reporter Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post, on a story that we'll be developing further next week.

Frank, thank you.

Mr. AHRENS: Thank you, Alex.

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