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Time to tame TV violence

The media industry has not self-regulated to the satisfaction of parents. The government should step in.

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Should Congress regulate TV violence? Last month the Federal Communications Commission boldly said yes. Boldly, because that position invites a strong rebuttal from defenders of free speech. And boldly again because, well, where does one draw the line on violence?

The FCC could have let this hornet's nest alone. But it was pushed to examine it by 39 members of the US House and has now responded with a well-reasoned report.

The television industry is not correcting itself to the satisfaction of parents – whose children watch an average of two to four hours of TV a day. Eighty-two percent of parents with young children say violence in children's programming is a major concern. Nine in 10 say it has a serious negative impact on their kids.

Government regulation is tricky here because the courts have protected violent speech and depictions under the First Amendment. But doing nothing would leave children at greater risk to models of violence. And it would leave society at greater risk of aggression committed by people who were influenced by violent media, as many studies show.

The arguments against government regulation can be countered:

Free-speech violation. The FCC points to the precedent of regulating broadcast indecency, upheld by the Supreme Court. The court allowed restrictions because of indecency's "uniquely pervasive presence" and its accessibility to children. Indecency also ranked lower as a First Amendment right, because of its "slight social value." The parallels with violence are obvious.

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