Amy Jordan addresses the need to balance the media industry's potentially important contributions to the healthy development of America's children against the consequences of excessive and age-inappropriate media exposure.
Much of the philosophical tension regarding how much say the government should have about media content and delivery stems from the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protection against government interference in free speech, including commercial speech. Courts, Jordan says, have repeatedly had to weigh the rights of commercial entities to say what they please against the need to protect vulnerable citizens such as children. This balancing act is complicated even further, she says, because many government regulations apply only to broadcast television and not to non-broadcast media such as the Internet or cable television, though Congress has addressed the need to protect children's privacy online.
The need to protect both free speech and children has given rise to a fluid media policy mix of federal mandates and industry self-regulation. Jordan describes the role of the three branches of the federal government in formulating and implementing media policy. She also notes the jockeying for influence in policymaking by industry lobbies, child advocacy groups, and academic researchers. The media industry itself, says Jordan, is spurred to self-regulation when public disapproval grows severe enough to raise the possibility of new government action.
Jordan surveys a range of government and industry actions, from legislatively required parental monitoring tools, such as the V-Chip blocking device on television sets, to the voluntary industry ratings systems governing television, movies, and video games, to voluntary social website disclosures to outright government bans, such as indecency and child privacy information collection. She considers the success of these efforts in limiting children's exposure to damaging content and in improving parents' ability to supervise their children's media use.
Jordan concludes by considering the relevance and efficacy of today's media policy given the increasingly rapid pace of technological change. The need for research in informing and evaluating media policy, she says, has never been greater.