Jack Myers' Think Tank: FCC Threatens Your Favorite TV Series, As Rosie Rages On
Rosie has a great knack for self-destructive behavior that makes her not only a tabloid press hero but a favorite for The New York Post's front page and the lead story on "Entertainment Tonight." What I can't quite figure out is why the press is so enamored with her horrendous behavior, and what the implications are when her actions deliver nonstop publicity.
It's the same story. Television is used as a vehicle for elevating those who exhibit reprehensible behavior to iconic stature. In this case, ABC and "The View" provided Rosie with a platform for insulting ethnic groups, individuals, and pretty much anyone who crossed her. As the press obsessed on Rosie and gave passing notice to Heather, it pretty much ignored a new report from the Federal Communications Commission suggesting Congress limit the amount of violence on TV and cable. Rosie on "The View" probably doesn't count in FCC definitions of violence, but in my opinion embracing and accepting her behavior is more destructive to young people than the vast majority of prime-time violence.
The FCC report argues that government has the right to dictate personal taste and control television content. For as long as I can remember, there have been arguments that television violence causes violent behavior in society. Studies and reports offer overwhelming evidence that's simply not true. Realistically, though, it's impossible to be in favor of violence on TV -- but if the industry doesn't respond forcefully and intelligently, it's likely Congress will follow the FCC's counsel. NBC issued a statement saying "We strongly believe that by regulating violent content without clear, objective, and consistent standards the FCC will in effect threaten the wide range of programming enjoyed by American audiences." Good for NBC -- but the industry needs a more focused and aggressive response.
In the early 1990s I was a lone industry voice calling for a program content ratings system, which ultimately was accepted by the networks along with the V-Chip. But the industry has, with some exceptions, kept these ratings all but invisible. There's been little education on the availability and use of the V-Chip, which enables parental controls.
Nearly three quarters of Americans say parents, not the government, should have the right to determine what children watch on TV. But once the politicians get hold of this juicy opportunity in an election year, Congressional action will be all but inevitable and networks' protests will fall on deaf ears. As a first and easy step, networks should increase the visibility of content ratings, and cable operators should advance V-Chip education.
More important, the industry needs to be proactive in defining the debate. It's not an issue of television violence and its impact on children. It's not an issue of parental rights, and it's not an issue of censorship. The core issue is what programs, specifically, the FCC is complaining about, and whether fans are prepared to lose these shows and future ones that are similar.
Let's demand that the FCC provide a list of series they believe should come under its jurisdiction. Let's take a hard industrywide look at those series and conclude whether they are deserving of a defense -- and let's mount that defense with aggressive consumer campaigns and research on a program-by-program basis.
Let's make it personal. Fans love their TV series. And if the FCC fails to provide a list, let's attack them for creating an issue for partisan political purposes only as we head into an election year. Let's call them out!
We can be sure there are Congressmen and women who are sweaty with excitement over the prospect of attacking TV violence. Let's hit first and define the debate, rather than giving the politicians their bully pulpit. Let's mount an offensive campaign and go after the FCC with all barrels firing, so to speak. Let's be sure voters realize their politicians are threatening to remove many of their favorite TV shows. Maybe we can hire Rosie to become the industry spokesperson. People seem to love her violent behavior -- and I hear she needs a job.