The Media Institute Won’t Let Facts Get In the Way of a Good Story

Written by PTC | Published October 1, 2013

The president of The Media Institute took to the pages of USA Today on Monday to praise violence in media. You probably haven’t heard of The Media Institute since not many outside the very small world of DC telecommunications policy wonkery have, but it “exists to foster three goals: freedom of speech, a competitive media and communications industry, and excellence in journalism.” Naturally, no reasonable person opposes any of those goals. Patrick Maines, the president of the organization, wrote a piece in USA Today on Monday which mostly praised the recently-ended (but also supremely violent) AMC series Breaking Bad. But in so doing, Maines jumps the shark:

As many have noted, in recent years the Emmy's have been dominated by cable rather than broadcast network programming. Indeed, both pay and basic cable channels have gained a reputation as the place to find smarter, edgier original series like Mad Men, The Sopranos, and of course Breaking Bad (despite the initial drug-themed hesitation about BB). And this raises the question of why much of the best programming has been gravitating to cable.

One explanation is that broadcasting is much more heavily regulated. For this reason, programming that is marked by sexual or violent content carries greater risk for broadcasters than for cable networks. And the risks involved don't issue from government only.

Risk? What risk? Would Maines really have us to believe that the “risk” to broadcasters in airing sexual and violent content in any way outweighs the risk to children of seeing it? What’s more, has Maines forgotten that broadcasters, as free users of the public airwaves, have a legal obligation to broadcast “in the public interest, convenience and necessity?” Now I take no issue with the Emmy’s. It’s the TV industry’s award, and they can certainly choose to recognize whatever programming they wish and it’s safe to say that Hollywood tends to give awards to the most shocking content it can find. After all, that’s what gets you the invitations to all the best cocktail parties, it seems. But here’s the problem: there is no regulation of violence on broadcast television, or anywhere else. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. The only content regulation of the broadcast medium is of obscenity, indecency and profanity at certain times of day, while none of which address violence. What’s more, the FCC indecency rules haven’t been enforced in the past five years, despite more than 100,000 Americans urging the FCC to act. For a DC policy shop with a focus only on communications policy, you might reasonable expect The Media Institute to get it right, but it does not. I guess that’s not a big surprise from a group whose Board of Trustees reads like a Who’s Who of Washington lobbyists for the entertainment industry. Rather than writing misleading op-eds, perhaps the entertainment industry and its mouthpieces should help families develop real solutions to media violence.

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