Jacob Sullum

 It was music to the ears of broadcasters losing viewers to the racier shows on cable. House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, agreed that "it's not fair to subject over-the-air broadcasters to one set of rules and subject cable and satellite to no rules." Barton said he would join Stevens in supporting the extension of content restrictions to cable and satellite "if we can work out the constitutional questions."

 That part may be tricky. The Supreme Court has applied "strict scrutiny" to content regulation of cable TV, finding a "key difference between cable television and the broadcasting media" in "the capacity to block unwanted channels on a household-by-household basis."

 Yet in the age of the V-chip and content ratings, parents (even the small minority without cable or satellite TV) have the ability to block not just entire channels but particular kinds of programming, including violence and other potentially objectionable content that goes far beyond the sexual and excretory stuff covered by the FCC's indecency rules. Instead of banning Deadwood and The Sopranos, or banishing them to the FCC's late-night "safe harbor," how about asking parents to take some responsibility for monitoring what their kids watch?

 When it upheld the FCC's content rules back in 1978, the Supreme Court said "indecent material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizen ... in the privacy of the home," as if TV were a robber or a rapist. But TV is not a criminal invading our homes; it's an invited guest. If we think he might misbehave, it's up to us to keep an eye on him.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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