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Commissioner says violent images should be banned as obscene

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  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Jul 3, 2000    

Commissioner says violent images should be banned as obscene

  • Because the V-chip and other methods of regulating broadcast violence are not enough to protect children, violent images should be banned as “obscene,” according to one FCC commissioner.

FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, the chairwoman of the commission’s V-chip task force, said in a June 26 speech that in the interest of protecting children, the regulations defining and banning obscene speech should be broadened to ban violent images as well.

“I’m asked why can sex or bodily functions be obscene or indecent, and hence banned or regulated, but images of excessive violence can’t,” Tristani told a group gathered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s conference on children and the media in Washington, D.C. “As a legal and historical matter, the case for placing obscenely violent images that reach children outside the protections of the First Amendment is as strong as the case for excluding obscene sexual or excretory images,” Tristani said.

“There may be some purists who think the language of the First Amendment is absolute, and that there is no such thing as protected speech,” Tristani said. “Under this view, not only obscenity laws would fall. Libel and slander laws and the ban on yelling fire in a crowded room would disappear as well.”

Tristani told the audience that if law and regulation fail, parents can protect their children by using the V-chip, now built into every new television larger than 13 inches, by turning off the TV or using the business model, “which is not buying goods or services from advertisers who sponsor and thereby support violent programming.”

Action for Children’s Television founder Peggy Charren, who was in the audience, told a Los Angeles Times reporter that she disagreed with Tristani, noting she would rather “encourage choice” with positive shows for children rather than ban programs.

Amy Jordan, an Annenberg senior researcher who moderated the panel on the future of children’s media, agreed with Charren, finding Tristani’s suggestion too rash. Jordan said that less restrictive measures such as the V-chip and enforcement of the FCC’s Three Hour Rule, which requires broadcasters seeking license renewals to provide three hours each week of educational and informative programming for children, be given a chance before resorting to censorship.

“We do not have to choose between protecting our children and protecting the First Amendment,” Tristani argued. “The shield of the First Amendment should not become a sword that harms our children.”


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