Is It Possible to Regulate Television Violence?

Article excerpt

A recent poll disclosed that more than 60% of respondents favored regulations to control the amount of violence in the media. Several times during the first weeks of 1994, Pres. Clinton implied the need to curtail media violence. Early in 1994, Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), declared that children live in a "wasteland of crime" and "scenes of violence fill television." With an apparent consensus for controlling violence on TV, a Democratic administration, Democratic Congress, and Democratic chair at the FCC, it would seem that now is the time to do something about it.

Although the Democrats revealed little concerning communications policies during the presidential campaign, Clinton did acknowledge that he favored competition in the telecommunications industry. In a C-SPAN interview in July, 1992, he said he would appoint to the FCC and other regulatory agencies chairmen "who [believe less in] ... heavy-handed regulation [than in] incentives which create the fight kinds of market to do the right kinds of things...." He also claimed he was "no big fan" of wholesale deregulation. In October, 1992, Clinton indicated that his communications policy would be premised on three principles: There would be an open door to viewpoints; competition would come first in determining policy; and regulation would occur only as a last resort. However, he cited the 1992 legislation that would keep cable companies from taking unfair advantage of consumers as an example of needed government regulation. He declared that the Clinton-Gore Administration would be neither a regulatory nor a deregulatory one, but that, on a case-by-case basis, it would apply the following test: Is regulation necessary and will it achieve its goal?

Eddie Frits, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, has described the Clinton Administration as "not the same old regulatory-type Democrats," but one ready to "reshape the Democratic Party to the new mode of thinking." While recent Clinton comments and pressure exerted by Attorney General Janet Reno imply that this is another administration of regulatory Democrats, the fact that Clinton and Gore have many important friends in the media may temper regulations.

Television and media leaders were major supporters and contributors during the campaign. The movie industry supported Clinton with several fund-raisers, including a large party sponsored by the Hollywood Women's Political Committee. Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency solicited financial support from several Hollywood donors; Bob Pittman of Time Warner assisted Clinton with his media problems; and Tom Tisch, the son of CBS president and CEO Laurence Tisch, helped Gore with financial deficits resulting from his attempt at the presidency in 1988. Lew Wasserman, MCA chairman, contributed more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and asked over 100 of his colleagues to pay a minimum of $5,000 to attend a fund-raiser. Although cable operators were not well represented, Falcon Cable president Marc Mathanson, Viacom CEO Frank Biondi, HBO head Michael Fuchs, and Time Warner CEO Pittman were among 400 business leaders who endorsed Clinton and Gore.

With all of this media support, the President undoubtedly will think twice before asking the new FCC chairman for regulations. In a speech to Hollywood moviemakers, Clinton proposed a "partnership" and outlined what they could do to help "rebuild the frayed bonds of community" and provide young people with nonviolent ways to resolve their frustrations. This implies he would prefer cooperation between government and industry, rather than legislative action. In recent speeches and interviews, though, Clinton seems to be rethinking regulations when it comes to violence. He has been repeating the theme that something must be done. In initiating a crackdown on TV violence, the Attorney General extended the anti-trust exemption on television scheduled to be phased out Dec. …