NEW YORK — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday launched a wide-ranging inquiry into whether it can regulate violence on television — just as it does indecency — to protect children.
Agency will consider any number of possible actions, including invoking authority over cable programs in addition to broadcast and tightening the TV ratings system.
But first the FCC is setting out to determine the exact influence of violent television on children, a Herculean task. Notice even asks whether certain kinds of violence may be helpful in preparing a child for real life.
The congressionally directed rulemaking will take months, maybe years, involving mounds of filings from parents groups, academics and the television networks. There have been any number of studies on the impact of violence on the airwaves, but none has ever led to regulation.
FCC commissioner Michael Copps, a longtime advocate of cleaning up the airwaves, immediately criticized FCC chair Michael Powell for not being tough enough in the rulemaking.
“The U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Assn., the American Medical Assn. and virtually every other leading medical and scientific organization that has studied this issue have reached the same conclusion about the harmful impact of media violence,” Copps said.
“Yet the commission today seems to ignore this wealth of scientific data, even going so far as to ask in this notice whether there are benefits of exposure to televised violence by our children,” Copps said.
“Wanton violence on the people’s airwaves has gone unaddressed for too long,” he added.
In drafting the notice, the FCC leadership seemed well aware of the constitutional concerns that arise when trying to regulate any form of content.
“Does violence serve any artistic function that should be considered, or are all depictions of violence necessarily gratuitous?” the FCC rulemaking asked.
At the same time, children’s advocate groups such as the Parents Television Council have been galvanized in the wake of Janet Jackson’s breast-baring on national television, using the incident as an opening to demand action by Washington.