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Don't put new regulations on cable programs
The Providence Journal


May 13, 2005

I spent a recent morning speaking to high-school juniors and seniors about media literacy. I had planned on talking about images in advertising, a reliable topic to which everyone can relate. But then I read Time magazine's recent cover story "Has TV Gone Too Far?," and changed my mind. I wanted to know what 16- and 17-year-olds thought about efforts to treat them - and all of us - like adolescents.

The kids I talked to followed the same patterns as typical U.S. teens. More than 90 percent of them had cable or satellite TV. About 75 percent had Internet access at home, and nearly the same number had one or both media in their bedrooms. Only a handful said that their parents had rules about media, most of which applied to younger siblings. One junior said that his parents used Internet filtering software. No one had heard of the V-Chip.

When I asked them where limits should be set in terms of viewing M(mature)-rated TV shows and R-rated movies or pornography, surfing the Web, and owning "labeled" CDs or M-rated video games, most said that parents had a responsibility to control what their kids were exposed to, at least until they reached high-school age.

This non-random sample of high-school kids recognizes what many elected officials don't: Although it's impossible to completely shield children from all questionable content, it is primarily a parent's job to do so, not the government's.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, quoted in Time, says cable TV should be regulated like broadcast TV. "Eighty-five percent of the people watching televisions today are watching through cable, but they think they're watching local TV," he said. "They have to have some protection."

In other words, the masses aren't smart enough to know the difference, so Senator Stevens can do the thinking for us.

Reading this made me feel as if I'd gone back in time.

Seventy years ago, in the wake of the Payne Fund Studies, the Legion of Decency, and threats of federal censorship bills, the movie industry instituted the Production Code Administration and cleaned up its act - in the name of protecting both public morals (especially the morals of the poor and immigrant classes, which went to movies frequently) and children. And by the end of the 1930s, the audience that had made Mae West a star was going to the movies less and less.

To Senator Stevens I say, Thanks but no thanks. I pay for cable because I want this content. When I watch HBO's "Deadwood," I want Al Swearengen swearin' like a 1870s brothel owner, and when I watch FX's "The Shield," I want an honest portrayal of tough cop Vic Mackey tiptoeing the line of right and wrong.

Is either appropriate for a 12-year-old? No. But, like the high-school kids I spoke to, 12-year-olds don't pay the cable bill.


Ron Leone is a communication professor at Stonehill College, in Easton, Mass.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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