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FCC to seek federal controls on TV violence

Washington Post The Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators, concerned about the effect of television violence on children, will recommend that Congress enact legislation to give the government unprecedented powers to curb violence in entertainment programming, according to government and TV industry sources.

The Federal Communications Commission has concluded that regulating TV violence is in the public interest, particularly during times when children are likely to be viewers – typically between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., FCC sources say.

The agency’s recommendations – which will be released in a report to Congress in the next week, agency officials say – could set up a legal battle between Washington and the television industry.

For decades, the FCC has penalized over-the-air broadcasters for airing sexually suggestive, or “indecent,” speech and images, but it has never had the authority to fine TV stations and networks for violent programming.

The report – commissioned by members of Congress in 2004 and based on hundreds of comments from parents, industry officials, academic experts and others – concludes that Congress has the authority to regulate “excessive violence” and to extend its reach for the first time into basic-cable TV channels that consumers pay to receive.

First Amendment experts and television industry executives, however, say that any attempt to regulate TV faces high constitutional hurdles – particularly regarding cable, because consumers choose to buy its programming.

Further, any laws governing TV violence would have to define what violence is. The FCC report contains broad guidelines but leaves the details up to Congress.

The FCC’s conclusions probably will form the basis of legislation being drafted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said spokeswoman Wendy Morigi. Rockefeller, who is a Commerce Committee member, will introduce his bill after he has digested the FCC’s recommendations, she said.

According to FCC sources, the report’s recommendations include the creation of an “a la carte” system that would allow consumers to buy only the cable channels they want – a favorite plan of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s that is widely opposed by cable companies.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the trade group of large cable companies declined to comment on the report until it is released.

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