Culture Wars Continue as Senate Panel Considers Measure to Censor Television

May 18, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, May 18, 1999

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee today opened yet another front in the new culture wars engulfing Capitol Hill as it considered new legislation to censor television broadcasts.

The Senate Commerce Committee is considering legislation introduced by Senator Ernest Hollings, D-SC, to require that broadcasters limit violent video programming to hours when children are not likely to be watching.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has long fought efforts to censor the nation’s airwaves, said the Hollings measure is the latest in a long line of proposals to impose government-mandated restrictions on television.

“This plan is yet another example of the government’s heavy-handed effort to dictate the use of our remote controls,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, a legislative analyst for the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “This bill should give pause to families who believe that parents – and not the federal government — should have ultimate say on what their kids watch.”

The ACLU said that violent programming cannot be easily defined. Some programs use violence for positive and socially beneficial purposes. It would be difficult to imagine, for example, a meaningful portrayal of the Civil War without some attention to the carnage that was part of that conflict. And violence depicted in the news similarly remains important to the public, guiding decisions in public policy issues.

In addition to representing government censorship, the ACLU said that the Hollings measure would be unconstitutional under a long line of Supreme Court rulings that have found “violent” content to be deserving of the highest level of First Amendment protection. In 1948, for example, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that prohibited the distribution to minors of any publication that contains “accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime.”

“Those who seek these restrictions obviously think the American public cannot be trusted to turn off their own televisions,” Schroeder said.

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