The Parents Television Council thinks so, and the release of its new study later today showing significant increases in broadcast primetime violence dovetails with renewed interest in the issue at the FCC and possibly on Capitol Hill.
Broadcasters, already weary of defending themselves against indecency, may soon find themselves fighting on a second front in the content wars—TV violence.
Thanks to the Parents Television Council, TV violence is again in the spotlight. Today, the PTC will release the results of a new study called “Dying to Entertain,” a follow up to its 2003 “TV Bloodbath.”
The new study finds that the incidences of TV violence in primetime broadcast TV are on the rise. In fact, it says, they have quadrupled on one network since its first count in 1998.
Meanwhile, the FCC may soon release a report to Congress critical of broadcast TV violence. And regulating TV violence could gain traction on Capitol Hill. It has long been a favorite issue of Democrats, who are now back in control of Congress.
The FCC report—the product of formal inquiry begun in July 2004— is currently circulating among the commissioners and the word is that it will not be good news for broadcasters. According to one source, it may conclude that the V-chip is not working and that some type of regulatory intervention is needed.
There could also be a renewed call for a family viewing hour, for which FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has repeatedly expressed his support. The 8 o’clock hour would be a sex- and violence-free zone.
Not only does the PTC-conducted study say that violence has become “more frequent and graphic” during primetime broadcast television, it also highlights the “alarming new trends linking sex and violence.”
“This study will help parents, educators, sponsors, our public servants and many others to understand the extent of violent content on broadcast television,” PTC President Tim Winter told TVNewsCheck. (PTC is holding back further details of its study until this afternoon’s press conference.)
The PTC’s 2003 study found a dramatic increase in instances of TV violence per hour between then and 1998. Most of it came during the 9-10 p.m. hour, up 134% since 1998, and at 10-11 p.m. (up 63%), but violence was also up 41% in the so-called 8 o’clock family hour.
Certainly, TV executives know just how formidable the PTC can be. PTC has kept up the heat on broadcast indecency enforcement at the FCC and was the driving force behind congressional action increasing the base indecency fines10-fold to $325,000 per incident last year.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is scheduled to speak at the PTC press briefing. When the FCC launched its TV violence inquiry in 2004, he said it was a shame that the commission had taken so long to address the issue. “Hundreds of studies over decades document the harmful impact that exposure to graphic and excessive media violence has had on the physical and mental health of our children,” Copps said.
The return of the Democrats to leadership positions in Congress should encourage the PTC and others who find too much mayhem in primetime. The party has a history of interest in the issue. The late Illinois Senator Paul Simon and the retired former Senate Commerce Chairman Ernest Hollings advocated strongly for anti-violence measures.
TV violence could crop up next month when the Senate Commerce Committee convenes its first FCC oversight hearing. The new chairman, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, co-sponsored Hollings’s perennial legislation that would have treated violence much the same as indecency.
In March 2005, taking up where Hollings left off, two members of that committee—West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison—introduced legislation that would, among other things, extend the definition of indecency to include violence and, thus, subject violence to the same regulatory regime.
It was a bi-partisan group of House Energy and Commerce Committee members including Democrats John Dingell and Edward Markey who spurred the FCC to open its inquiry into TV violence in 2004. In the new congressional order, Dingell is now the chairman of the committee, and Markey is chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee.
Although Markey has yet to set forth his agenda for the subcommittee, he is likely to weigh in on violence. After all, he was the chief proponent of the V-chip, the technology that allows TV viewers to black out TV programs on the basis of the industry’s ratings system for violent and sexual content.
Broadcasters and their advertising allies are counting on the First Amendment as their principal defense against regulation of violence.
Regulation of violent programming “would face insurmountable First Amendment barriers,” they argues in comments on the FCC violence inquiry. The coalition includes the National Association of Broadcasters.
“Every court that has addressed the degree to which ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“violent’ expression is constitutionally protected has concluded that such material receives the utmost protection,” the coalition says.