WASHINGTON – Beaten up and strapped to a chair, once again it looks like the end for Jack Bauer, the hero of Fox Network’s hit show “24.” Using his wits – and his teeth – Bauer goes for the jugular, literally.
In the scene, Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, chomps on the neck of the terrorist holding him captive and makes his escape.
Broadcasters are free to televise such cringe-inducing scenes of violence with relative impunity in the United States. But a new draft report from the Federal Communications Commission suggests the government may be able to limit violence on TV in a way that does not violate the Constitution.
The report suggests Congress could craft a law that would let the agency regulate violent programming much like it regulates sexual content and profanity – by barring it from being aired during hours when children may be watching, for example.
The report also suggests that cable and satellite TV could be subjected to an “a la carte” regime that would let viewers choose their channels.
Citing studies, the draft says there is evidence that violent programming can lead to “short-term aggressive behavior in children,” according to an agency source, who asked not to be identified because the commission has not yet approved the report.
“In general, what the commission’s report says is that there is strong evidence that shows violent media can have an impact on children’s behavior and there are some things that can be done about it,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday.
The issue is bipartisan. Martin, a Republican, gave a joint interview Thursday to the Associated Press with Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps.
“The pressure to do something on this is building right now,” Copps said. “People really feel strongly about this issue all across this land. This is not a red state or a blue state issue.”
The report, requested by Congress, is sure to alarm executives in the broadcast and cable industry, members of the creative community and First Amendment advocates.
The FCC’s authority is limited to licensed broadcast stations. Content on cable networks that is not available over the airwaves is beyond the agency’s reach.
To address cable, the report suggests that Congress could draft legislation that would mandate a “family tier” of programming or a form of channel choice known as “a la carte.”
Martin has long supported such a proposal, as has Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., but the cable industry has beaten back a la carte legislation in the past.
Creating a regulatory regime to deal with television violence would present a host of challenges for the agency, critics have said. First, the FCC or Congress would have to define excessive violence. And even if a definition can be devised, more problematic is the issue of how to determine what is worthy of sanction and what is not.
“Will it count on the news?” asked Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media. “Will it count on news magazines like ‘60 Minutes’ and ‘Dateline’? What about hockey games when the gloves come off and people start punching each other?”
Rintels said such rules would create “huge gray areas of censored content.”
Broadcasters are expected to object strenuously to any anti-violence regulatory regime, but have been skittish to go on the record. The National Association of Broadcasters declined a request for comment, as did CBS Inc. and Scott Grogin, senior vice president for corporate communications at Fox Broadcasting.