“I have long expressed concern about the impact of the violent content our kids see.” — Sen. Jay Rockefeller

 

In the wake of the Connecticut tragedy, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D – W. Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was among the first lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call for a study of the link between real-life aggression and violence in videogames. He responded via email to Variety’s Ted Johnson.

 

Do you believe that there is an impact of media violence on real-life violence?
Yes, and research confirms what we as parents already strongly believe — the thousands of violent images that our children see on television, the Internet and videogames have a negative impact on our children’s well-being. I have long expressed concern about the impact of the violent content our kids see and interact with every day, and we must do more to address its effect on their health and security.

Is one form of media portrayal, such as videogames, potentially more dangerous than others, like TV news?
It is not clear to me which type of media has the most profound impact on children, but I am concerned with the growth in alternative video distribution methods, online video and other new technologies that make violent content more easily accessible to children with limited parental control… Some believe that violent videogames are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better. We need to do more… and Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue.

The videogame industry insists that there is no causal link between game violence and aggressive behavior; AMA and other groups warn of excessive exposure to such games. Will your study help resolve these discrepancies?
Yes. The National Academy of Sciences is in a unique position to conduct a thorough review and assessment of the existing research on violent videogames and their impact on behavior.

The Supreme Court in 2011 struck down a California ban on sales of violent videogames to minors. What kind of legislative action can be taken to reduce childhood exposure yet survive a First Amendment challenge?
In making this decision, the Court dismissed a great deal of research that found a link between violent videogames and aggressive behavior. The NAS study may provide the Court with more definitive information and create the opportunity for state legislatures and Congress to enact narrowly tailored laws restricting the sale of such games to minors. Even without legislation, Congress can play an important oversight role that pushes the industry to do a better job of policing itself.

How successful has the V-chip been in limiting children’s exposure to violent content?
Voluntary efforts by the industry to safeguard children from violent programming are inadequate and ineffective. The Federal Communications Commission found in 2007 that the V-chip relies on a TV ratings system that is ineffective at protecting children from violent content and in 2009 that not one parental control technology available today works across all media platforms. More recently, a report by the Parents Television Council indicates that networks have inconsistently and inaccurately applied the TV ratings system, letting harmful content slip through seemingly just to drive ratings.

Would there still be a way for the FCC to set standards for violent content on TV the same way they have authority to issue fines over indecent programming?
In 2007 the FCC agreed with the Surgeon General and health professionals that strong evidence exists that aggressive behavior in children can increase with exposure to violence in the media. Unfortunately, the Commission also concluded that it lacked sufficient statutory authority to impose fines or other forfeitures on media companies for airing excessively violent programming. In its report the FCC recommended that Congress act to give the Commission such authority, and determined that Congress could craft limits on violent content that could survive constitutional challenge. I proposed legislation to give the FCC that authority two years before the release of that 2007 report. I will be calling on the FCC to review and update this report, particularly given the growth in alternative video distribution methods, online video and other new technologies that allow kids to access violent content with less parental involvement. My present legislation to study the impact of violent content on children is not the end of this conversation.

Is there a danger that a debate over media portrayal of violence can overshadow calls for new gun legislation?
We are doing the country a disservice if we do not explore every policy imaginable to make sure our children and communities remain safe. I voted for the assault weapons ban in 1994, which included a ban of high-capacity clips, and we need to pass a bill that will again prohibit such weapons. I also think we need to have a renewed dialogue on mental health and the violence our kids see starting at a young age. Sadly, incidents with guns kill Americans every day. We need to discuss all legislative options that might prevent more innocent lives lost. I see the debate over violence in the media as part of a comprehensive discussion to take strong actions to promote gun safety.