Dismissing fears that they’re playing fast and loose with the First Amendment, the Senate Commerce Committee on Aug. 10 easily passed two new bills aimed at curbing violence on TV.
The legislation, offered by Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), comes less than a week after the House of Representatives joined the Senate in adding V-chip lingo to a telecom reform bill that lets parents snuff out TV violence with a flick of the remote control.
Under the Hollings bill, the Federal Communications Commission would be given authority to block violent programming on broadcast and basic-cable tiers during hours when children comprise a large segment of the audience. Dorgan’s proposal provides federal grants to a yet-to-be-determined nonprofit org for the purpose of providing quarterly “report cards” on the violence content of shows and their sponsors.
Hollings’ bill passed by a margin of 16-1, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) the lone dissenter. The Dorgan measure was approved 13-4, with “no” votes registered by committee chairman Larry Pressler (R- S.D.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) and John Breaux (D-La.).
It’s doubtful the new anti-violence initiatives will be attached to pending telecommunications deregulation legislation. Hollings hinted, however, that he’ll add his bill to other legislation or seek a straight up-or-down vote on the full Senate floor. No companion legislation to either the Hollings or Dorgan bills has surfaced in the House.
Though he voted for the Hollings bill, Breaux said it “bothers me a great deal that we are attempting as a government to do what parents ought to do. The government is going to become a censor, I think, in a major way.”
ABC lobbyist Billy Pitts agreed, saying, “We believe there are constitutional infirmities” with both bills.
The National Assn. of Broadcasters said it is “ironic that at a time when Americans are seeking less government, the Senate is piling on with a stream of proposals to build up unprecedented federal censorship bureaucracies.”
Backers of the legislation insisted the bills don’t amount to censorship, but rather are an attempt by government to deal with an issue that’s become a priority for the nation’s parents.
TV violence means higher profits for Hollywood and the broadcast industry, Hollings said. “This (legislation) is the only way to get to (the industry’s) pocketbook. This is a money fight. That’s why broadcasters and the West Coast crowd continue to fight this.”
The Hollings legislation instructs the FCC to determine the definition of violence and to create a “safe harbor” for airing more explicit programming in timeslots when children are sleeping. Broadcasters who violate the restriction are subject to having station licenses revoked.
TV news, docus, sports and educational shows would be exempted from the violence restrictions of the Hollings bill.