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Professional News
Govt. Seeks Ways to Reduce Kids' Exposure to TV Violence
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 13 page 5-34

Exposure of children to violence on telev ision ca n increase aggressive behavior, at least in the short term, according to a report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

And while there are constitutional barriers to directly limiting the distribution of violent television programming or when it may be aired (known as time channeling), there are legal precedents relating to restrictions on the broadcast of indecent content that provide possible parallels for regulating violent television content, the FCC stated.

Moreover, the agency concluded that while there are legal, evidentiary, analytical, and social science obstacles that need to be overcome in defining harmful violence, Congress likely has the ability and authority to craft a sustainable definition.

The report is the result of information provided by APA, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the AMA, among many others, in response to a request for public input on the question of whether exposure to violence on television affects children. The FCC prepared the report at the request of members of the House of Representatives who asked the agency to solicit comment on three essential issues:

"Our analysis... indicates that the current technology 'fix,' including but not limited to consumer understanding of the technology and voluntary ratings system, is not effective in protecting children from violent programming," the FCC report stated. "[W]e believe action should be taken to address violent programming."

In its recommendations, the FCC listed the following alternatives:

Cable and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operators could implement a la carte in a variety of ways. For example, it could be limited to digital cable customers who would be permitted to "opt out" of cable programming, requesting not to receive certain cable channels and having their package price reduced accordingly ("channel blocking and reimbursement").

"Alternatively, customers could be allowed to 'opt in' to particular cable programs," the FCC stated. "This is how premium channels are offered today. In Hong Kong, for example, consumers can select and pay for only the channels they want. A family that wants to watch sports, movies, news, and children's programming can receive 15 free channels plus a selection of 11 additional digital channels including ESPN, HBO, CNN Headline News, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Discovery.

"Another option [is] to allow consumers to choose a specific number of channels from a menu of available programming for a fixed price—for instance, 10 channels for $20 or 20 channels for $30. Customers then would be able to receive and pay for only that programming that they are comfortable bringing into their homes."

APA Trustee and child psychiatrist David Fassler, M.D., called the FCC report "interesting and helpful," incorporating information, testimony, and statements from APA, AACAP, and the AMA, among others.

"It provides a good summary of the existing research on the effects of media violence on young children," Fassler said. "Consistent with previous reviews, the FCC concludes that watching TV or movies with violent content can be harmful to children. In particular, the report reviews the findings of studies demonstrating an increase in aggressive behavior following exposure to programming that depicts violence.

"The FCC also acknowledges that existing efforts to reduce such exposure, including the use of voluntary rating systems, have not been effective," Fassler added. "And finally, the report recommends specific legislative and regulatory strategies designed to address this issue in a more meaningful and definitive manner.

"It will be very interesting to see how and if these recommendations are actually implemented," he said.

Fassler also noted that AACAP has published "Facts for Families" on children and television violence posted at<www.aacap.org/page.ww?name=Children+And+TV+Violence&section=Facts+for+Families>.

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