Buoyed by a court decision giving the government increased control over adult programs on radio and television, a Senate panel is considering a plan that would restrict when violent TV shows may air.
The Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing today on a proposal by its ranking Democrat, Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, that would require broadcast and cable TV providers to air violent programs at times of the day when children are not likely to make up the majority of the audience.
“Everybody knows that TV violence contributes to real life violence except for the TV industry people,” Robert Lichter, co-director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, said in an interview Tuesday.
Lichter, who has done extensive research on the subject, was among the witnesses scheduled to testify today.
Broadcast and cable television executives, who were not set to testify, repeatedly have disputed claims that number of acts of violence on television is increasing.
Under Hollings’ plan, the Federal Communications Commission would determine what hours of the day such programs would be banned. It is unclear what programs would qualify as “violent.”
For cable, Hollings’ plan applies only to violent programs carried on the most basic tier of service. That tier generally includes local broadcast channels, public access channels and some cable networks.
The plan exempts programs carried on “expanded basic” levels of service, which comprise the vast majority of cable channels like USA network, TNT and MTV.
Pay-per view programs and pay cable channels like HBO also are exempted.
Hollings’ plan, in the view of FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and other analysts, got a boost on June 30 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a ban on indecent broadcasts - from 6 a.m. to midnight - would be constitutional.
That ban, written by Congress, was stayed and never went into effect.
The Senate passed its own telecommunications bill last month. It will have to be reconciled with the House bill.
The Senate bill contains a provision that would require broadcasters and cable networks to rate their shows for violence and other potentially objectionable content and for TV set makers to put a computer chip in their sets that would read these electronic ratings.
This would enable people using a remote control to block out shows, channels or specific time slots.
But Wayne Luplow, a vice president at Zenith Electronics Corp., in testimony prepared for the hearing, said, “Manufacturers need a stable set of technical specifications before they can invest the millions of dollars necessary for the redesign of TV receivers to implement a ratings-based blocking feature.”
All the leading makers of color TV sets, including Sony, RCA, Magnavox and Zenith, have so-called parental control features built-in, Luplow said.