Friday, April 27, 2007

Violent objections to the FCC report

As anticipated, the Federal Communications Commission released blue-nose bait in the form of a report (PDF file) decrying violence on television and calling for greater government control of TV content. Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children makes the unsurprising claim that "research provides strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase aggressive behavior in children, at least in the short term." Unsurprising, that is, because the harm allegedly done by watching old roadrunner cartoons and episodes of 24 provides the basis for the massive power-grab outlined in the rest of the document.

What isn't explained is why, even if it's true that watching violent programming "can increase aggressive behavior in children," it's necessarily the business of government to address the issue instead of parents.

The report does dwell, however, on that pesky First Amendment, which has the nasty habit of throwing up roadblocks to bureaucrats intent on shielding us--our children, anyway--from televised portrayals of car chases and shootouts. The authors start off by reassuring us that, whatever hurdles the First Amendment may pose for regulation of most media, broadcast television is fair game for the blue pencil.

While a restriction on the content of protected speech will generally be upheld only if it satisfies strict scrutiny, meaning that the restriction must further a compelling government interest and be the least restrictive means to further that interest, this exacting standard does not apply to the regulation of broadcast speech.

Unfortunately, they're probably right. The courts have pretty much given regulators free rein to censor broadcast speech ever since the politicians sold the country on the questionable idea that the broadcast spectrum is somehow public property.

But, even if broadcast television suffers from anemic free speech protections, does that necessarily give the FCC carte blanche to regulate violent programming? The report says it does.

We also believe that, if properly defined, excessively violent programming, like indecent programming, occupies a relatively low position in the hierarchy of First Amendment values because it is of “‘slight social value as a step to truth.’”

"Slight social value" says them, of course. But that's all they believe they need.

But that's broadcast television, Oddly, even though the report discusses mandated changes to cable and satellite television, it never gets around to asserting a constitutional basis for regulation of media that don't use the "public" airwaves.

But let's put that aside, just as the report does.

Again, even assuming that violent programming has ill effects on children, and is of "slight social value," why shouldn't we leave the matter to parents. Isn't that what the much ballyhooed V-chip was all about?

Well, yes, but parents aren't doing their duty, apparently.

[M]any parents do not even know if the television sets in their households incorporate this technology and, of those who do, many do not use it.

After all of that hard work by the feds to insert V-chips in our televisions, us ungrateful types don't even use them. That's why we need censorship.

But censorship of what? The report devotes an entire chapter to the problem of defining "excessive violence" as distinguished from violence integral to the telling of a story. Even after citing gruesome scenes that lie at the core of The Odyssey, Dante's Inferno and The Bible, the report's authors still assert that "developing an appropriate definition of excessively violent programming would be possible, but such language needs to be narrowly tailored and in conformance with judicial precedent."

Wow, that's slippery language. In fact the report is full of slippery language, all of which adds up to a justification for greater government control of the electronic media, all in the name of shielding the kiddies from violence.

Oh good--because we know how effective governments are at protecting us from violence.



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