Content Regulators May Cast a Wider Net
August 27, 2009
WASHINGTON: Concerns about children’s exposure to media
violence could drive content rules into platforms beside broadcast TV. So says
David Oxenford, a veteran media attorney with Davis, Wright Tremaine LLP.
“In the next few days, concerns about the protection of children from indecency
and violence could lead to a report from the FCC to Congress urging use of the V-chip and other parental controls in devices other than television sets,” Oxenford wrote on the BroadcastLawBlog. “Remarks several weeks ago by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski suggesting that the FCC might want to look at content regulation beyond the broadcast medium.... suggest that concerns about the exposure of children to indecency and other troubling programming on cable, online and by wireless devices may lead the FCC into unprecedented extensions of its
regulation of entertainment content beyond the broadcast media.”
Oxenford cited a Bloomberg
article confirming that the FCC intended to open a content inquiry after
reporting to Congress on Aug. 31 regarding blacking and rating techniques.
“This extension of federal regulation to protect children is occurring at the
same time that similar concerns are being expressed by state legislatures,
including the adoption of a recent law in Maine that effectively prohibits direct
marketing to minors,” Oxenford said.
The report due to Congress came out of a March Notice of Inquiry seeking
feedback on blocking technologies like the V-chip and whether other
platforms--mobile, DVRs, cable TV--should have them.
“The FCC even asks if rules should be extended to video games--which were not
specifically named in the legislation,” Oxenford writes. “This would seemingly
extend the FCC's jurisdiction far beyond its current limits.”
The cable industry thus far has been able to fend off content regulations on
constitutional grounds. After the last round of skirmishes with regulators, the
cable lobby made a big deal out of pushing the V-chip, but few people actually
use it to block channels.
“So, with a push from Congress to confer the FCC with power to
regulate these areas, we may be looking at an FCC far more willing to
regulate or at least examine regulation in these areas,” Oxenford
He said the states are pursuing similar regulations. One law in Maine prohibits
all direct marketing to minors younger than 18.
“There have been bills introduced in legislatures around the country,
suggesting regulation against unhealthy food ads, which, for the most part,
have stalled by definitional issues, and privacy regulations,” he said.
“Clearly, concerns about what children see and hear are driving regulatory and
legislative activities,” Oxenford wrote. “Broadcasters and digital media companies
need to be alert to these activities, and adjust their programming to respond
to any new regulatory requirements.”
David Oxenford’s observations are available at Davis Wright Tremaine’s Broadcast