WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators on Wednesday began soliciting public comment on whether there is too much violence on television and whether the government should step in.
The Federal Communications Commission wants to hear from parents, the television industry and others about the effectiveness of the V-chip and the television ratings system. The FCC also sought public input on what kind of regulation, if any, might be needed.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the agency to study the issue.
Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member commission, has railed for years against indecency on the airwaves.
"Hundreds of studies over decades document the harmful impact that exposure to graphic and excessive media violence has on the physical and mental health of our children," he said. "Wanton violence on the people's airwaves has gone unaddressed for too long."
The FCC will take public comment for two months and then report to Congress.
"The kind of violence we see today is unlike any kind of violence we've ever seen before on television. It's getting out of control," said Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.
A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters defended programmers.
"Most people would acknowledge that programming on broadcast television is far less violent than what you would find on cable and satellite," said Dennis Wharton.
He pointed to the creation of the V-chip, which uses the voluntary TV ratings system to allow parents to block specific programs.
The FCC regulates indecency on public airwaves. The agency has stepped up enforcement since Janet Jackson's breast-baring performance during the Super Bowl halftime show in February.
Under anti-indecency rules, radio stations and over-the-air television channels are barred from broadcasting references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m, when children are most inclined to watch.
The commission could consider expanding indecency rules to include violence, but may need congressional authority to do that. Also, the FCC is sure to be criticized by those who already complain that the government's definition of indecency is subjective and chills free expression.
Congress tackled the issue of television violence with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The result was the V-chip and the television ratings system created by industry groups.
The rating designations include TV-Y7 for children 7 and older, TV-14 for children 14 and older, FV for fantasy violence, V for violence and D for suggestive dialogue.
A 2001 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 40 percent of American families own a television set with a V-chip, but only 17 percent of those families use the device.
On the Net:
Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov
Parents Television Council: http://www.parentstv.org