Civil Liberties

The FCC Took My Cable Away


The Federal Communications Commission has finally released its long-awaited, much-anticipated report of "Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children."

It's a lousy document that, to the surprise of nobody who follows this kind of stuff, concludes that we need more content regulation of violent images that are transmitted over broadcast and cable TV (indeed, the document pushes to expand content regulation to cable and satellite, which are currently outside the purview of the FCC):

Given the totality of the record before us, we agree with the view of the Surgeon General that:  "a diverse body of research provides strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase children's aggressive behavior in the short term."  At the same time, we do recognize that "many questions remain regarding the short- and long-term effects of media violence, especially on violent behavior." We note that a significant number of health professionals, parents and members of the general public are concerned about television violence and its effects on children….

Congress could implement a time channeling solution, as discussed above, and/or mandate some other form of consumer choice in obtaining video programming, such as the provision by MVPDs [multichannel video programming providers] of video channels provided on family tiers or on an a la carte basis (e.g., channel blocking and reimbursement).

Got that? The research on the link between violent TV and behavior in children is not decisive ("many questions remain"), but because enough people complain about the "problem" and in spite of an ever-increasing amount of viewer controls available to parents (the most simple being the on/off switch, of course),  Congress should limit what can be on when (time channeling) and how entertainment providers offer up stuff to viewers. Because, you know, if we don't, violent juvenile crime rates among kids will plummet even more.

The whole report is here (scroll down).

If you don't have the time, or inclination, or wrought-iron stomach to scan a document dedicated to reducing the freedom of expression on the small screen, skip to the statements of the FCC's commissioners approving the findings of this colossal waste of time and energy.

Here's FCC chairman Kevin Martin:

Parents need more tools to protect children from excessively violent programming. And, as the Commission finds today, they need tools that address the violent programming on all platforms-broadcast, cable and satellite….

No mission creep there! Despite the fact that people pay for cable and satellite and can basically block whatever they want, either through economic choice, a set-top box, or via the TV set itself (all of which are equipped with V-Chips or even cruder channel controls), parents need the tools that the FCC wants to give them.

Here's commissioner Michael Kopps:

Television is perhaps the most powerful force at work in the world today. When used for good, it can enlighten minds, convey powerful ideas, educate, and lay the foundation for human development.  But when it is used to mislead, misrepresent and distort, it can—it does—inflict lasting harm.  Most of the evidence amassed over the past half century indicates a relationship between gratuitous violence and harmful effects—personal, psychological and social.  While research continues on how children are affected by what they watch, it seems close to indisputable that there are indeed unfortunate and negative outgrowths from the spreading virus of broadcast violence.

Close to indisputable! Good enough for government work!

Here's Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate:

Many of us, as parents, have witnessed our children acting out a fighting scene from an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, been shocked by our children's callousness towards violence, or been awakened by a frightened child climbing into bed after having a nightmare because of something they saw on television.

Even though Corey Feldman is no longer one of the TMNT, TV can still cause nightmares. Just like books!

Here's Commissioner Robert M. McDowell:

As the father of three young children, I am deeply concerned about the coarsening of television content and the effects of television violence on children.  As a society, we should do all that the law allows to help shield our children from harmful television content.

Look, I'm the father of two children (sons, one of whom is still going through something of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle). And I've got to say that I'm jealous that what my kids have at their fingertips is not a coarse culture (though there's plenty of that out there) but an incredibly rich kid-centered culture that includes tons of clever programming on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Noggin, Sprout, and so much more. And since when is it the responsibility of the world–as opposed me–to protect my kids from TV?

And here's Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, the only member of the FCC who didn't fully back the back the report (he thought it didn't talk enough about consumer viewing tools):

Particularly in light of the spasm of unconscionable violence at Virginia Tech, but just as importantly in light of the excessive violent crime that daily afflicts our nation, there is a basis for appropriate federal action to curb violence in the media.

It's not just kids who are committing fewer violent crimes (see above), it's everyone in the U.S. So if that's your measure, bring on TV violence. If there's little doubt that TV over the past decade has gotten "coarser" and more violent, there's equally little doubt that the US has become less violent a place to live.

But more to the point: We live in an age of proliferating culture, where at long last we're getting increasingly free to produce and consume more culture more on our own terms (and we live in a society that is objectively less violent than it was in recent memory). And the freaking FCC is talking about extending its purview and reducing the freedom of consumers and entertainment providers?

Oy, talk about rotten counter-programming! Censorship in an age of free expression!

Look for a more analytic piece on the main part of Reason Online tomorrow.