Thursday, March 1, 2007 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Chapman on Illogical Gov't Nannyism

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune has long been one of my favorite newspaper columnists. He's penned another excellent piece for today's Trib pointing out how illogical it is that the government continues to regulate broadcast speech as if nothing has changed over the past 30 years.

He points out that the FCC's recent fines for "indecent" content on broadcasting are increasingly silly in a world where kids can get the same programming online simultaneously. He also points out the absurdity of this week's record $24 million fine against Univision for violating the hopelessly out-of-date Children's Television Act. He argues:

[P]arents who want to shield their kids from bad language on TV already have ample means to do so--in the form of channel blocking and V-chips that can be used to filter out programs with content they regard as inappropriate.The FCC says these methods are ineffective because parents don't use them. More likely, parents don't bother because they don't think the problem is serious enough to justify the effort to shield kids from words they've already heard on YouTube. To insert the federal government is not a way to strengthen the authority of parents but to circumvent it.

You might think a Democratic Congress would be less inclined to brook federal interference with free expression, but dream on. While Republicans like to crack down on "bad" programming, Democrats like to demand "good" programming. When the Univision fine was announced, it won applause from Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. In this regulatory environment, freedom is not a factor: Anything not forbidden is compulsory.

The idea that we need the FCC to assure educational opportunities for children is nonsense on stilts. In the first place, there are plenty of channels, from PBS to the Discovery Channel, that offer nothing but educational programming. If parents don't like what Univision offers, they have plenty of alternatives. In the second place, any parents truly interested in exposing their children to intellectual stimulation are more likely to shut the TV off than turn it on.

Even if more educational programming would be a good thing, what business is that of the government? More G-rated films would be a good thing, too, but we don't force movie studios to produce them. That goes back to the 1st Amendment, which puts Hollywood beyond the reach of official busybodies. Movie studios make what they choose, and moviegoers decide whether they or their kids will see them: No government required.

Amen, brother. Make sure to read Steve's entire essay.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:58 PM | Free Speech