FCC Split Over TV Violence Report

By David Hatch
The National Journal

March 27, 2007


An upcoming FCC report recommending steps that Congress can take to regulate television violence has sharply divided the agency's five members.

Multiple sources said Republican Chairman Kevin Martin and Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, who are spearheading the crackdown on graphic scenes, had approved the latest version of the report.

But GOP Commissioner Robert McDowell and Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein are apprehensive about intervening in this area, and it is unclear whether they are onboard, sources said.

Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate is expected to approve the findings, although her office did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Further complicating matters, minority groups recently complained about language in the report endorsing per channel cable pricing, known as a la carte.

The discord may explain why the document, requested by 39 House lawmakers in 2004 and the subject of speculation for weeks, is not ready - although some observers expect it soon.

The report concludes that Congress can regulate violent TV images without compromising the First Amendment. It has created some unusual alliances -- teaming Martin and Copps, who are often at odds, while dividing Copps and Adelstein, who normally move in lockstep.

Adelstein shares his colleagues' concerns but disagrees on the approach. "The question is: What's the role of government, and what's the role of broadcasters? I mean, there should be some sense of responsibility," he said last month. last month.

McDowell, who already has split with Martin on some high-profile items, has raised First Amendment concerns.

While applauding the agency's efforts to curb televised violence, three minority groups recently urged the FCC not to embrace a la carte pricing.

"If [a la carte] is enacted, programming channels aimed at small but significant minority segments of the population would be threatened," the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warned in a March 14 letter. Two Hispanic organizations raised similar concerns in February.

Shortly after the FCC report's release, Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., plans to reintroduce legislation that would expand the FCC's "indecency" regulations to pay TV and allow the agency to restrict violent fare on broadcast, cable and satellite.

Rockefeller is expected to ask Senate Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, for a hearing and a vote on his bill. Rockefeller is a senior member of the Commerce panel.

Inouye's office declined to comment, but several sources characterized the Hawaiian as "moderate" on the issues.

A television industry source predicted that, even if the FCC approves the report 3-2, Rockefeller's bill would easily pass the chamber because "no one's going to oppose violence [legislation]."

Nevertheless, Rockefeller faces what even his supporters acknowledge are substantial constitutional hurdles, given that subscription television does not use the public airwaves and that defining excessive violence is largely subjective.

Industry and congressional sources agree that lawsuits are inevitable if the measure is enacted.

"We believe that consumers are the best judge of which content is appropriate for their household," said National Cable and Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz, noting that parental controls are available.


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