WASHINGTON — Big media companies that include graphic violence in their programs are more concerned about short-term profits than the long-term health of children, and government should intervene, a senator said yesterday.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he would push legislation in the coming weeks to limit violent content in the media.
"I fear that graphic violent programming has become so pervasive and has been shown to be so harmful, we are left with no choice but to have the government step in," Rockefeller said yesterday at a meeting of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"To be blunt, the big media companies have placed a greater emphasis on their corporate short-term profits than on the long-term health and well-being of our children," Rockefeller said.
Others on the panel, including ranking minority member Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, were unenthusiastic.
"I think we have to tread a lot softer than you indicate," Stevens said. He said he was concerned about First Amendment implications of any legislation and the possibility that Congress might overreach and pass a law that would be invalidated in court.
The hearing included a brief video montage of clips of graphic scenes of violence and rape played for the packed committee room and compiled by the Parents Television Council.
The issue of television violence has gotten more attention lately. In April the Federal Communications Commission released a report urging action on the issue, and laying out a number of options Congress could pursue if it were to write legislation.
Among the chief recommendations was requiring the cable television industry to offer programs on an "a la carte" basis, something FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has long supported. Such a system would allow parents to avoid paying for and receiving channels that contain content they find objectionable.
Rockefeller, in a bill he offered during the last Congress, did not support that proposal, but the senator's spokesman said before the hearing that "every option is on the table."
One thing the FCC did not do in its report was define the meaning of "excessively violent programming that is harmful to children" which would be at the core of any legislative initiative.
Witnesses at the hearing included Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co., which produces the show "24."
Liguori said that there was "no causal link" between television violence and violence in young people, an issue that has been hotly debated. "Without a causal link, we cannot justify imposing content limits on our media," he said.
The broadcast executive voiced the industry's oft-repeated view that parents are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting their children from violent content on television.
Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University representing a group called the "ad hoc media coalition," cautioned the panel about pursuing legislation, urging them not to "sacrifice free speech on the altar of protecting children."
Rockefeller chaired the meeting at the request of regular Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who was not present. Inouye, in previous statements has expressed support for an anti-TV violence law.