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R.I. politician suggests parental warning for TV news

February 25, 2014

CENTRAL FALLS – Should TV news programs dealing with violent or tragic
events come with one of those “parental warning” notices that precede shows with sexual or violent content?
State Rep. Agostinho Silva said he has heard from parents who think they should and he has introduced legislation he says is aimed at “starting a conversation,” toward action that would probably have to take place at the federal level.
The language of his bill is fairly broad. It says the Public Utilities
Commission “may promulgate reasonable regulations concerning the display of objectionable content. The regulations may include adequate warning for material deemed not suitable for viewing by children as well as restrictions on material deemed by the commission to be indecent.”
But Silva says “I’m not looking to censor anybody.”
The idea, he said, is to give parents a heads-up if the news is going to report something that could be disturbing to children, like accounts of the December, 2012, school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Some of the parents were concerned,” Silva told The Times Monday,
“because their kids were watching the same thing – with 100 channels all over the place – and some of the kids were afraid because they thought it was happening at more than one school. The younger kids especially didn’t know what was going on and when parents asked them they said they didn’t want to go to school because they thought there was more than one
shooting.”
The Central Falls Democrat said the parents wondered if there was anything that could be done. He told them the state probably couldn’t take any action “but we can put it in, start a conversation on it, and maybe send it up to the federal delegation, to have some sort of oversight or restriction, a notice that says ‘This news report may contain content that is not suitable for young children.’”
It would have to happen at the national level, Silva said, because the
state doesn’t have the authority to force a news station to give such a warning, especially the national and international news outlets.
Silva introduced a similar bill last year, but it did not make it out of committee. There is no similar bill introduced in the Senate.
ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said his group opposed the
legislation last year and will do so again.
“We don’t think it is consistent with the 1st Amendment,” Brown said
Monday. “Freedom of speech includes saying things people find
objectionable. What is objectionable to one person could be essential
information to another person.”
The bill will be heard later this afternoon by the House Corporations
Committee.

Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron

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