Breaking Down the FCC Report on TV Violence
LYNN NEARY, Host:
The Federal Communications Commission has called on Congress to regulate violent programming on television. The FCC released a report last week, which says it's necessary to protect young viewers from violence, just as it does from profanity and indecent sexual content.
But this time, the FCC is hoping to expand its reach into cable and satellite TV, as well as conventional broadcast channels. The FCC report is a result of a three-year study commissioned by members of Congress.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us in the studio now to sort through the FCC study.
David, are there any standards right now for violence on television?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's, sort of, a rather tepid voluntary rating system in place that the networks agreed to allow this V-Chip to work in the remote controls. The study seemed to show that these are hopelessly ineffective, that parents don't really get it and kids probably understand it a lot better than parents and may well use the ratings to find the shows that are a little more racy. But, you know, the best gauge that networks have on whether or not something is too violent is whether or not they have good ratings for it, whether or not people decide to watch the show.
NEARY: So how did this report from the FCC come about?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, a number of members of Congress actually several years ago in both parties asked the FCC to take a hard look at this. And one of the things they asked was is there a way to regulate violence, as we do other kinds of things particularly indecency? The study was, in some ways, prompted by this growing consensus by policy makers and politicians that children need to be prevented from watching violence, from absorbing it from all these venues particularly television, because they sit parked in front of TV sets so much.
But, you know, also videogames and movies and other places as well. They did a broad overview of these studies at the FCC, and they came to the conclusion that there appeared to be a link between the amount of violent television that's consumed by children and the amount of aggression that these children exhibited.
NEARY: What was interesting is the Congress, I think, wanted the FCC to come up with the definition for violence that could harm children, and the FCC didn't come up with the definition, but said Congress can do it.
FOLKENFLIK: That's exactly right. They said, you bet you, go ahead and define it. And, by the way, it's going to be an extremely tricky thing to do. If they walked through a little bit of the legal history of this in their 30-some-page study, and they said, well, the courts haven't looked so happily on this. I mean, when you think about television, some of the best shows on television, most critically praised shows on television, have been quite violent.
Some of the most critically praised movies that have been rebroadcast - "Saving Private Ryan" or "Schindler's List" - have had extraordinary violence in them as well. This is a very tough thing to sift through. A number of their suggestions have been in some ways to say, all right, well, let's give people choice. Let's, for example, allow people to buy cable and satellite channels individually as opposed to in huge baskets of channels, that is, the parents can decide they don't want their children to be exposed to the kinds of channels that are more likely to show them violent things.
The cable operators, if they can force you to buy 40 channels at a pop for one fixed fee, they're happy to do that rather than allowing you to say I only want the ABC Family Channel and ESPN.
NEARY: And, of course, now you can also watch television on your computer. You can actually watch television on your telephone, I think, if you want to. So this is really going to be tough for Congress to come up with some kind of legislation to cover all this.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, technology is fast outsprinting regulators' ability to handle it. For example, one of the recommendations was for Congress to consider saying that like indecent and sexually strong content, that violence be limited to certain hours of the day, later in the evening. If you can watch, as you can, a major network fare online anytime of the day, if you can download it to your iPods and carry it with you, what is to make you think that 10 o'clock at night really is 10 o'clock at night anymore?
If they're talking about cable stations, which are - essentially have national schedules as opposed to local schedules in terms of what hours of the day things are programmed, something that's shown at 10 o'clock at night may well be shown at 7 o'clock at night on the West Coast. Well, it means there's a whole host of issues that they're not going to simply be able to regulate very easily.
NEARY: So Congress isn't going to come up with anything very soon then.
FOLKENFLIK: Congress is going to have a very big task on its hands if it thinks it's going to be able to pass muster both in terms of the constitutional matters of regulating violent speech and material and if it thinks it's going to be able to outwit technology and people's desire to consume entertainment at any time at any place they want to.
NEARY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Good talking to you, David.
FOLKENFLIK: Great to join to you.