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Stop violence on TV or else....

Violence on U.S. TV, which some see as a rating booster and others perceive as simply a reflection of American society, is under increasing attack.

The U.S. networks, always sensitive to public disapproval, are caught in a difficult situation. They know that violence attracts and intrigues audiences and they acknowledge that brutality and mayhem on the air is definitely on the rise.

Opposition to the detailed, close-up portrayal of violence on TV now has reached the U.S. Congress. Partly to dampen it, the networks have agreed to meet in Hollywood during August to discuss what might be done to reduce it. Cable companies have indicated they will attend, and so will Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA.

A recent Times Mirror survey found that 72 per cent of Americans feel there is too much violence on entertainment television programs.

Objections also center on the insertion of violent trailers for R-rated movies during children's shows. There is pressure for Congressional hearings on that specific issue.

Broadcasters, while careful not to actually oppose moves to reduce violence on the air, do point out that the viewing public gets lots of it just by watching the news. Valenti has voiced concern over possible moves that might interfere with "creativity" in Hollywood.

But there are those who go beyond worrying that violent TV might act as a role model for American society, and that thoughtless brutality is actually generated by violent movies and TV shows.

Howard Stringer, president of CBS Entertainment, and one of the few network executives to speak out bluntly on the problem, has promised that CBS would become much tougher on violence in its fall lineup. And he went further: "There is a cynicism in this society, and it is hard to believe that we may not have had some role in it," he told a symposium. "We should discuss the implications of what we put on the screen. It is the chill of violence that worries me, not so much the physical action. It is the callousness involved, the role we have in shaping the attitude of young people to their victims. It is gratuitous violence, which is really quite widespread on television, which we have to erase from the networks. We must admit we have a responsibility."

James Quello, the interim FCC chairman, has pointed out that, by the time a child is 16, "he or she will have seen 33,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television." TV violence, he argued, "is directly related to criminally violent behavior among the young."

Equally blunt is Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, the mainspring behind the movement to get the networks to take some action about violence. In fact, it was Simon's legislation that allowed the networks to get together and take joint action in that direction. Last December, in a common statement, the networks adopted "joint standards" relating to violence in entertainment shows.

Simultaneously, Simon, Valenti and others are emphatic in their desire to avoid even the semblance of censorship. What they call for is more self-regulation.

In reply to the argument that there is plenty of raw violence on TV news, Simon maintains that television news portrays violence as it happens, but does not glamorize it. As for the viewing public's obvious fascination with TV violence, Simon said there is an inconsistency in the appeal violence seems to have to the very public which complains that there is too much violence on television.

The cable industry is undertaking a study and has assigned George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania to run it. Asked how it is that TV violence is rampant in Japan, but doesn't seem to reflect in Japanese society, Gerbner argued that "Japanese violence, unlike ours, is not a happy violence. It's painful, it's awful and it teaches a very different lesson."

Abroad, opposition to violence in American shows has reached the point where many networks simply won't buy them, or else they edit it out, Spain being the latest example. In Singapore, violence on TV is being censored more strictly that in the cinemas. In Colombia, violent TV shows are now censored by the government (stations submit shows for reviews 72 hours before broadcast). In Switzerland violent TV shows are not broadcast at all. But, as the Europeans object to violence, they allow the kind of sex on the air which Americans would never tolerate.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:May 1, 1993
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