Obama Tackles Guns, but Media Isn’t in Crosshairs

WASHINGTON — The White House last week announced its series of initiatives to reduce gun violence in the wake of the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., school shootings, and cable and other media were not a major focus.

But the effects of violent TV will certainly be examined. President Obama has directed the Center for Disease Control to conduct studies on the causes of violence, including the impact of violent media, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) will introduce his own legislation to do that.

But studies are long-term investigations, not short-term threats to content or business models.

Most of the president’s executive actions last week were about military-style weapons, high-capacity magazines and background checks of gun buyers.

There was no harsh rhetoric aimed at media violence during a press conference in which the president emphasized new gun laws. The White House’s online version of the plan emphasizes those gun-control measures, school safety and better mental health services.

That had appeared to be the takeaway after meetings earlier this month between Vice President Joe Biden and National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell, National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith and others.

The media-related portion of the proposal is confined to a single graph in the 15-page summary, the nut of which is to “conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games,” and calling on Congress to fund that to the tune of $10 million.

Talking about the need for that study to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last Thursday (Jan. 17), Biden said that based on conversations with media representatives — Powell, Smith and others — “they seem intent on doing what they can do to help.” He cited the ratings system and parental controls that “the vast majority of Americans don’t know about.”

Biden took brief aim at a familiar target of kids TV critics: cartoons. “If you have Xfinity [Comcast’s David Cohen was also at the media industry meeting with the VP], you can go on if your grandchild or child watches those early-morning cartoons on Saturday that have excessive violence, you can actually program your television to take out extreme violence, moderate violence or violence.” He said he doesn’t think that 90% of the parents have any idea of that.

Biden said one of his suggestions to them was to conduct a “major advertising campaign” to let people know about it.

Rockefeller plans next week to introduce his bill directing the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a “comprehensive study” of the impact of violent content, including video games and programming, on children. The academy would have to report its findings to the Federal Trade Commission and FCC.


President Obama’s anti-gun violence initiatives call for more study of violent media’s impact, as Vice President Joe Biden seeks more publicity for ratings and parental control.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.