The Wall Street Journal recently put together an e-mail debate on the subject of whether the FCC should regulate violence on television. Former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani was selected for the pro-regulation side, and Rene Balcer, the head writer of "Law and Order," was recruited as the anti-regulation voice. It's instructive to follow Balcer's arguments, not only for what they say, but also for what they say about people, like Balcer, who advance them.
Balcer immediately began by chiding parents for not having the brains to figure out how to program their DVD players, let alone the vaunted V-chip technology, and sneered at Tristani, "I know you may not want facts to intrude in this discussion." But then Balcer claimed TV writers and executives "police ourselves." That's where his alleged reverence for facts abandoned him.
He stated: "It goes without saying that anyone who cares about kids wants to protect them from disturbing images. That's true of everyone I'm involved with in my industry. Everything is scrutinized for violent content not only by the standards department but also by the creative people who create and control the content."
But Balcer also knows this little truth: Even if every parent implemented V-chip technology, it wouldn't work. Much of the hyper-violent programming would not be blocked because it cannot be blocked, thanks to his industry. "Any inconsistency in the ratings reflects the difficulty in defining what constitutes violent programming," Balcer claims. But he is either utterly ignorant of his industry -- so why is he speaking for it? -- or he's flat-out lying.
In the fifth study of its kind from the Parents Television Council, it's still obvious that Hollywood knows what constitutes shocking content -- and they're in love with shock, so much so that they are actually refusing to use the content descriptors that would allow V-chip blocking.
Two-thirds of the shows reviewed by PTC analysts containing potentially offensive content during the November and February "sweeps" periods lacked one or more of the appropriate content descriptors: 63 percent of shows with sexual content didn't have the "S," 54 percent of shows with steamy sexual dialogue didn't have the "D," 44 percent of shows containing foul language didn't draw the "L," and 42 percent of shows containing violence didn't carry the "V."