Clinton: Parents Need Help With Online Threats

A parade of high-profile politicians said Wednesday that U.S. parents need help with protecting their children from violent and obscene content on the Internet and in other media, but they offered few concrete ideas.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, often mentioned as a potential candidate for president in 2008, called for parents, the media and government regulators to work together to protect children from inappropriate content and online predators during a conference on policies and technologies to give parents control over their children’s media usage.

Clinton, a New York Democrat, didn’t call for specific government regulation of online and traditional media, but she said government has a "role to play." Parents also need more information about the tools they have to control their children’s media habits.

Children today are bombarded with all kinds of media messages that weren’t available just a few years ago, Clinton said. "We live in a rapidly changing world, and all of us are struggling to keep up, particularly parents," she said at the conference, sponsored by the New America Foundation think tank and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care advocacy group. "The technology is outpacing our ability to deal with it."

Clinton introduced a bill in December that would ban U.S. stores from selling mature-rated video games to minors. In October, she cosponsored a bill that would fund new research into the effects of electronic media, including the Internet and video games, on children.

Many media outlets bring violent and obscene images into homes, she said. "If a person walked into your house and said and did some of the things that are easily accessible to children on television, on video games and on the Internet, you’d call the police," she said. "Yet, we turn a blind eye to what’s streaming into our homes."

Joining Clinton at the conference were Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, and U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members Michael Copps and Deborah Taylor Tate. There’s still time for media companies to police themselves, but U.S. residents are becoming more and more angry about what they see in the media, Landrieu said.

"There’s not a lot of time to work this out" before U.S. residents will prompt Congress to act, she said.

The FCC gets daily complaints about media content, Copps added. "They’re concerned about Big Media’s race to the bottom," he said. "They wonder if there really is a bottom."

Not all conference participants advocated government action. Parents have many tools to combat objectionable media content, said Adam Thierer, senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank. Parents can use TV and Internet technologies to block content, and video games have ratings systems, he noted in a paper distributed at the event.

"In the extreme, if parents want to take radical steps to limit children’s potential access to objectionable programming, they can get rid of their TV sets and other media devices altogether," he wrote. "Perhaps most sensibly, parents can always sit down with their children, ‘consume’ controversial and provocative media programming with them, and talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing."

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service

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