ARMED WITH the latest studies documenting a rise in televised mayhem, some activists are pushing Congress to extend the federal nanny state's purview to TV violence. The networks' growing fascination with maiming, killing and vivisecting may be lamentable, but regulations to limit violence on over-the-air television would be even less rational and enforceable than the government's shifting standards for indecency and profanity.
A bill by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), which was offered in 2005 and is expected to be reintroduced this year, would allow the Federal Communications Commission to regulate "gratuitous and excessively violent" shows on local broadcast stations and on basic cable networks. (The FCC limits when indecent material can be broadcast by local stations but has no authority to regulate violent programming.) If the FCC found industry efforts at self-regulation ineffective, it could bar violent broadcasts during the hours children are likely to be watching.
There's an obvious 1st Amendment problem with any effort by government to regulate speech. Beyond that, though, there are at least two difficulties with proposals such as Rockefeller's.
First, it's difficult to define what constitutes violence, let alone what is gratuitous or excessive. Does mental torture qualify? How about a documentary with graphic scenes of deaths and injuries caused by drunk drivers? Should news footage be included? Cartoons?