Why TV violence may face scrutiny -- A recent FCC report links child aggression with onscreen mayhem

By Lynette Rice
Updated May 04, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Has Jack Bauer been tortured for the last time? Will Gil Grissom ever see a bloody corpse again? On April 25, the FCC released a report that, among other things, links short-term aggression in children to violent images on TV and questions the effectiveness of the V-chip in blocking unwanted shows. Broadcasters believe Congress will respond to the findings by allowing the FCC to oversee your favorite murder-and-mayhem-themed procedurals. (Shows like CSI and 24 haven’t had to worry about the FCC because the agency doesn’t have the power to regulate violence on TV.) Lawmakers could also enact some of the report’s other suggestions, such as designating a violence-free family hour and allowing viewers to choose which cable channels they subscribe to. ”The desire by the FCC and Congress to restrict TV violence is understandable,” says one standards-and-practices exec. ”If the networks did not share some of that concern, we would not have standards departments.”

So what does this mean for CSI fans? Probably nothing in the short term. (We are talking about Washington, after all.) In the long term, the FCC and Congress are most likely in for a fight if they press ahead. ”There has not been one industry in the history of this country that has been improved by government supervision, ever,” says Law & Ordercreator Dick Wolf. In addition, it may be hard for the FCC to police violence when its definition of indecency is already so tricky to understand and adhere to. Any definitions that the agency does formulate may run afoul of the Constitution. ”We often refer to this type of proposal as legislative crack,” says Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, a First Amendment advocacy group. ”The more unconstitutional it seems, the happier they are to support it, knowing that it will be thrown away by the courts.”