Content Regulators May Cast a Wider Net

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 said.

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 Law Blog.