FCC regulation of violent programming

The FCC this week launched an inquiry into whether the TV Parental Guidelines and the organization that oversees these ratings provide accurate information to viewers as to which TV programs are appropriate for children. The FCC released a Public Notice to initiate the inquiry at the direction of Congress in the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Bill – the Bill which ended the threat of a second government shutdown. That Bill contained a number of provisions directing various government agencies to take specific actions, including a direction to the FCC to provide a report to Congress in 90 days on the “extent to which the rating system matches the video content that is being shown” and whether the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (which oversees the ratings system) has the ability to address public concerns about the ratings. With the report due to be submitted to Congress by May 15, the FCC has asked for public comment on an expedited basis, with comments due March 12, and replies due just a week later on March 19.

The Board was established by a voluntary industry initiative approved by the FCC following a Congressional mandate for V-Chip technology in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For the V-Chip to work, programs have to be rated. The ratings that resulted are familiar to most TV viewers and range from TV-Y programming appropriate for all children to TV-MA, appropriate only for mature audiences. Programs are also rated for Violence (“V”), Fantasy Violence in programming for older children (“FV”), Sexual Content (“S”), Suggestive Dialogue (“D”) and Strong Language (“L”). These ratings are applied to most TV and cable programming except news, sports, and ads. Based on the claims by interest groups that the ratings do not accurately describe the programming, Congress issued this directive to the FCC. What questions does the FCC ask in its request for comments from the public?
Continue Reading Do TV Program Ratings Do a Good Job Telling Families Which Programs are Appropriate for Kids to Watch? Congress Wants to Know, So the FCC is Asking

Earlier this year, the FCC eliminated the requirement that broadcasters maintain, in their public inspection files, copies of letters from the public about station operations (see our article summarizing that action here). One aspect of that rule change did not become immediately effective, as it was subject to review by the Office of Management

The FCC on Tuesday voted to abolish the 44 year old requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain, in their public file, letters (and emails) from the public dealing with station operations (see the full Order here). As noted by the Commissioners in their comments at the FCC meeting (and as we suggested here and here when this proposal was first introduced), these documents were rarely if ever accessed by the public. Mirroring our comments from last year, the Commission noted that, in today’s world, where social media is where so many people take to comment on each broadcaster’s every action, and where the comments are open to all and preserved for posterity, the requirement for the retention of letters in a paper public file was felt to be no longer necessary. Plus, with the rest of the public file either already online or soon to go online when the last radio stations convert to the FCC-mandated online public file next year (see our articles here and here), the elimination of this requirement allows stations to have more security at the main studios as people can’t just show up unannounced to view the file, as required under the current rules.  Note that this will change the rules only for commercial stations – noncommercial stations have never had the obligation to include letters from the public in their public inspection files.

Much of this was expected in light of the new deregulatory bent of the Commission. About the only issue that had not previously been highlighted was the associated elimination of the requirement for TV stations that they report letters from the public about violent programming in their license renewal applications. The statute requiring the disclosure of these letters applied only to letters which the FCC rules required to be retained by the station. As the FCC will no longer require those letters be retained, the FCC found that the need to report letters about violent programming was now moot – and instructed the Media Bureau to delete the requirement from the license renewal forms. Because the reporting requirement lacked any real purpose, since the FCC has never sanctioned a broadcaster for violent programming and likely has no jurisdiction to restrict such programming, the abolition seems to be nothing more than the elimination of an unnecessary paperwork burden on broadcasters.
Continue Reading FCC Votes to Abolish Requirement for Retaining Letters From the Public on Station Operations – First Step in Broadcast Deregulation?

In the next few days, concerns about the protection of children from indecency and violence could lead to a report from the FCC to Congress urging use of the V Chip and other parental controls in devices other than television sets.  Remarks several weeks ago by FCC Chair Julius Genachowski suggesting that the FCC might want to look at content regulation beyond the broadcast medium, a view reiterated in an interview yesterday in TV NewsCheck, also suggest that  concerns about the exposure of children to indecency and other troubling programming on cable, online and by wireless devices may lead the FCC into unprecedented extensions of its regulation of entertainment content beyond the broadcast media.  An article today from Bloomberg News confirms that the FCC will be starting an inquiry to see if the television program ratings should be extended to cable and wireless entertainment services.  This extension of Federal regulation to protect children is occurring at the same time that similar concerns are being expressed by state legislatures, including the adoption of a recent law in Maine that effectively prohibits direct marketing to minors.

The report due this week follows a Notice of Inquiry issued by the Commission in March, as required by the Child Safe Viewing Act, legislation passed by Congress.  The law required that the FCC solicit public comment on "advanced blocking technology", the next generation of the V Chip, to see if these technologies can and should be extended to video programming other than broadcast television, including online communications, wireless communications (including video delivered to mobile  devices), DVRs and other video recorders, DVD players, and cable television.  The FCC Notice also asked why the current V Chip has seemingly not been used much by parents.  The FCC even asks if rules should be extended to video games – which were not specifically named in the legislation.  This would seemingly extend the FCC’s jurisdiction far beyond its current limits.  The FCC’s report is due by August 29. 


Continue Reading Protection of Children Prompts Potential FCC Regulation of Internet and Wireless Video Programming and Enhanced State Privacy Rules

As we’ve discussed before, here, the FCC has been reviewing their power to regulate violent programming on broadcast stations.  Despite the apparent constitutional and practical issues involved in such restrictions (e.g. are Roadrunner cartoons covered?), published reports indicate that a majority of the FCC Commissioners will issue a report asking Congress to give the FCC authority