Artists' group opposes FCC proposal to regulate violent programming

[via the Center for Creative Voices in Media]

Giving the Federal Communications Commission the power to regulate violent and graphic television content will stifle free expression, threaten quality programming, and ultimately harm America s children, just as its regulation of indecency has done, said Jonathan Rintels, Executive Director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media.

A recent survey by the group Television Watch revealed that 74 percent of Americans believe that parents, not the government, should decide what their kids watch on TV. Other surveys show that some parents are not familiar with all the blocking and other technologies that are available to them to avoid programming that they find objectionable, such as the V-Chip, onscreen ratings, cable and satellite channel blocking technologies, programmable DVRs, and others.

The clear answer to reconciling these parental interests, and effectively addressing the issue of how parents can avoid programming they find objectionable, is not for the government to censor programming. Rather, it is to better educate parents about the blocking technologies available to them, so that they can make the choices that are appropriate for their families.

In its Report to Congress, however, the Commission does not even recommend better parental education. Perhaps this is not surprising. The FCC s own website does a lamentable job in providing information to parents on avoiding objectionable programming. While the broad banner across the top of the FCC s Home Page trumpets, what every consumer should know about DTV (the transition to digital television), the FCC s Parents Place link to information about how to program a V-Chip and other methods to avoid objectionable programming is buried near the bottom of the page, the 44th link from the top on the left margin, just after Obtaining Licenses.

Instead of parent education, the Commission recommends that Congress expand the FCC s power to censor television content the most restrictive and least effective means of addressing the problem. The result would be an exponential and unprecedented increase in the power of the federal government to restrict free speech and expression over the public airwaves.

As the Television Watch survey says, Americans overwhelmingly don t want a few unknown, unelected, politically appointed government officials deciding behind closed doors what all Americans will be permitted to watch on television. Yet, that is precisely what the Commission recommends to Congress. Regrettably, this FCC report is long on censorship, and short on logic.

Recently, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression awarded the FCC a Muzzle Award for its censorship of free speech and expression over our nation's publicly-owned airwaves, explaining that the Commission's reasoning as to what it chose to censor 'amounted to little more than "because we said so."' Some might think that such an un-coveted honor, from such a prestigious organization, would persuade responsible public officials to reflect, reconsider, and once again act with appropriate restraint before imposing their own subjective tastes upon what hundreds of millions of Americans view on television. Instead, the FCC seeks to dramatically expand its power to censor.

In his Statement attached to the FCC Report, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin admits, Research on whether watching violent programming actually causes aggressive behavior in children is inconclusive. The Report could and should have stopped there. Nevertheless, despite that clear finding, it continues on to recommend government censorship as necessary to protect America s children.

But the Commission has it backwards; government censorship ultimately harms America s children. As the Center for Creative Voices in Media documented in its report, Big Chill: How the FCC's Indecency Decisions Stifle Free Expression, Threaten Quality Television, and Harm America's Children, the practical effect of the FCC's inconsistent and confusing indecency enforcement has been that broadcasters censor, delay, or drop prestigious, award-winning shows like Eyes on the Prize, Saving Private Ryan, 9/11, and so many others. Peggy Charren, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her longtime efforts to improve the quality of children's television, says, Many parents want to watch this programming together with their children. By causing quality television to disappear, the FCC has taken a powerful tool out of the hands of parents who use television to open up a dialogue with their kids about controversial topics like violence, poverty, racial disparity, ! and cultural diversity. Consider how many parents watched Roots with their children and then engaged in a dialogue with them about the issues raised by that provocative program. For the FCC to deny them that opportunity - that's not helping kids, it's harming kids.

Should the Commission be granted the authority to expand its control over television content to also include so-called violent or graphic content, the harm to America s children to all Americans will only be that much worse. With newly vague and expanded rules for indecency, and the newly enacted tenfold increase in fines, the result will be an even greater amount of free and appropriate expression will be chilled. The when in doubt, cut it out self-censorship effect of these rules is real, it is pervasive, and it is contrary to the free expression rights and interests of not only America s creative artists, but the American audience. Including children.

The Center for Creative Voices in Media is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving in America s media the original, independent, and diverse creative voices that enrich our nation s culture and safeguard its democracy. Creative Voices Board of Advisors includes numerous winners of Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and other awards for creative excellence, along with respected media scholars.

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