Democracy & Technology Blog Regulating television violence

Hasn’t television always been violent? I remember watching Westerns and WWII movies as a child with guns and canons blazing; police dramas (behind my parents’ backs, I suppose) in which all kinds of terrible things happened; even cartoons were violent. This was about the time of the so-called “Golden Age” of television — when there was nothing else to watch. But that was before you could commit a crime and interject a neglected child defense or some other excuse. Rather than focusing on swifter and harsher punishments for wrongdoing, our government is now toying with the idea of limiting free speech. In an article for Technology Liberation Front, I propose a more free-market solution:

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, recently asked the Federal Communications Commission for a waiver of the ban so it can distribute low-cost, limited capability set-top boxes to subscribers who don’t want higher-end devices costing several hundred dollars (see this and this).
With digital set-top boxes, parents will be able to access family-friendly programming without being required to subsidize objectionable content. Comcast is developing a Family Tier that it expects will have an average of 35-40 channels, including PBS Kids Sprout, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Nickelodeon, and Discovery Kids.
Digital set-top boxes will also provide an easy user interface for parents to limit the programming the family watches — they will be able to block programs by title, by TV or MPAA ratings, by channel, and (for many systems) by time of day.
Despite these pro-consumer and pro-family benefits, the FCC denied Comcast’s waiver request on technical grounds (but granted the company leave to file an amended request, which it has). Among the reasons: Consumer electronics manufacturers oppose a waiver. They would naturally prefer that consumers purchase their higher-end, higher-priced offerings. They do, however, hasten to predict that lower prices are around the corner if only regulators remain vigilant. Thus, a regulation intended to protect consumers instead mainly exists to protect competitors.

The full article is here.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.