IWF releases the second installment of a special series, Rebuilding Civil Society. Issue 2: Indecency, discusses why the government should leave media content “alone.” To read the provocative report written by Solveig Singleton an IWF Visiting Fellow, click here.


As each generation grapples with whether and how a new generation of media will affect the children in their care, legislators often respond with new regulatory proposals. The last two years have seen a renewed crackdown on “indecent” material broadcast over traditional television and radio, and proposals to extend these rules to cable television. The FCC and some legislators support “a la carte” rules for cable television, which would require operators to sell channels individually instead of “bundling” them in a package. Some states have passed laws adding a layer of regulation to video games.

The thrust of regulatory proposals aimed at indecency raises a larger question for parents. Is government the answer to the problem of how to protect children from inappropriate content? This analysis argues that parents are much better situated to address the problem themselves, with the aid of common sense and technology. Top-down, one-size-fits all, state-imposed rules do not address the individual needs of families, and threaten both freedom of expression and competition.

Parents are right to be concerned about what their children see, hear, and read. The sometimes vulgar and cruel world of adults is often too much for little people who have no experience that lets them place what they see in a larger perspective. Even the news can be frightening. But at the same time, millions of children and adults enjoy active fantasy lives replete with battles, guns, and tragic death; magic, love, and mayhem- and it is just play. Blaming the media for isolated instances of antisocial behavior is a denial of individual and parental responsibility that will only backfire by reducing choice and chilling discussion.