The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said Tuesday that he intends to make one last attempt to give the Federal Communications Commission the legal authority to rein in violence in the media before retiring from the Senate in 2015.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who on several occasions has tried unsuccessfully to get his committee to grant the FCC broad authority, made the promise during an FCC oversight hearing.
“I could go on to violence, but you know what I would say. I know what you would answer,” Rockefeller told the five FCC commissioners present.
He urged the FCC to follow up the studies it did on violent programming in 2007 and 2009, but made clear that further FCC progress depended on Congressional action.
“We have to do the heavy lifting on it to give you capacity in [the oversight of ] violence,” said Rockefeller. “You do your work, and I will do mine.”
Rockefeller in January reintroduced legislation he had previously offered to get the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of media violence. His comments Tuesday about giving the FCC authority to act indicated he intended to push farther forward.
Rockefeller acknowledged that his last attempt at getting Congressional action on violent media several years ago failed when his own committee rejected the proposal. It “had sort of bad reaction on this committee, which I never understood,” he said Tuesday.
Rockefeller’s comments immediately opened the potential for a two-front battle in Congress on media violence for the entertainment industry.
Industry lobbyists have already been watching closely whether the gun control debate could have its own repercussions.
The National Rifle Association's suggestion that the impact of media violence should be part of any gun control debate has prompted industry worries that violence on films and television could emerge as an issue as Congress considers gun legislation.
Last week as the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering legislation on assault weapons, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, offered an amendment that originally called for a study of the impact of violent video games by the director of the National Institutes of Justice.
By the time it was approved by the committee Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., had expanded the study to look at a variety of 14 other behaviors that could be factors in mass shootings, including bullying and availability of mental health care but also “depictions of violence in the media and entertainment industry.”
FCC commissioners at Tuesday’s hearing also heard a strong call from Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Fla., for the FCC to step in and do a better job of providing transparency on political ads by requiring more identification of the buyers and a warning from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Fla., if it chose to do so.
Nelson said the FCC has failed to adequately use the authority it has to require more identification of buyers and that it needs to do more.
He accused political committees of hiding “behind the flag, mother and country” to cover up information on who buys political ads and he pressed the FCC to step in.
Cruz, meanwhile, said the question of what to do about the ads, if anything, is a political one that should be addressed in Congress not the FCC.
Commission action perceived to benefit one part “would undermine the integrity of the commission and imperil the commission,” he said.