FCC chairman Reed Hundt climbed the bully pulpit Monday by forcefully urging broadcasters and programmers to take greater steps to stamp out TV violence.
During his keynote speech before the NATPE/INTV convention, where the new Federal Communications Commissionhoncho insisted the entertainment industry is not only partly culpable for violence on American streets but also has a patriotic duty to clean up its act.
“You need not settle for reflecting the worst in us,” Hundt told a subdued crowd. “You can help us take care of our children, instead of playing to some degree a role in harming them.”
Afterward, Hundt ducked a question on whether he supports any of the myriad anti-TV violence bills pending in Congress. However, should violence legislation pass, he pledged the FCC “will do a bang-up job” ensuring the bill survives court scrutiny.
“We might argue … that just as courts have found that the First Amendment does not permit a person to avoid punishment for shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, so it does not preclude Congress from protecting children from programming that inflames young minds,” said Hundt.
Although Hundt may deserve a Purple Heart for bravery for choosing the NATPE confab asthe venue for trashing excessive TV violence, few of the syndicators and station execs applauded the tone of the speech.
“There goes the chance for (selling) our show,” said one grim syndication exec after Hundt’s address.
Hundt called recent cable industry moves toward curbing TV violence a “watershed event.” (Cablers have endorsed not only an outside monitor to weigh cable violence, but the industry has also signaled support for attaching violence ratings to cable shows and “V-chip” technology that would allow parents to block out violent programming.)
Hundt said broadcasters “would be disingenuous” to continue denying that TV violence negatively influences moppets. “If a TV sitcom can sell soap, salsa and cereal, then who could argue that TV violence cannot affect to some degree some viewers, particularly impressionable children?” he asked.
The FCC chairlikened the challenge now facing broadcasters to a similar challenge facing car companies in the 1960s. For two decades, Detroit spent millions on lobbyists and lawyers resisting calls from car safety advocates, said Hundt.
Detroit lost sales in part by thumbing its nose at the public’s concerns over safety, he continued. But in recent years, the car companies have touted passive restraint and airbag features — and sales have soared.
“Violence can be for you what safety now is for the car companies: You can take it as an opportunity to win again the trust of your public,” he said. Broadcasters can choose “a path of denial and confrontation” or the route of “opportunity and renewal.”
“Don’t ask yourselves what is the minimum you can do to reduce violence on TV — or what it would take to keep Congress from legislating changes in your business,” said Hundt. “Ask instead what is the most you can do on the information highway to improve education for children and help adults find a better way of life.”