~'Perennial' TV Violence Issue Argued - Again
Washington--"We have these hearings year after bloody year," said U.S. Representative James H. Scheuer, Democrat of New York, at a House subcommittee hearing on televised violence last week. Other committee members echoed his frustration and irritation at listening to conflicting testimony about a perennial problem that they agreed has not "gotten very much better" over the years.
The Congressmen, who wondered aloud just what they could do about the situation, heard a leading researcher report that violence in weekend daytime children's programs increased on all three major networks last year. They also heard representatives from those networks flatly reject the research findings.
Daytime Programs Most Violent
George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, told the House telecommunications subcommittee that those daytime programs are the most violent on television, noting that they "bombard" children with an average of more than 25 violent acts per hour. (Last year's figure was 17 incidents per hour.)
Mr. Gerbner's figures were derived from his 12th annual "Violence Profile."
Representatives from the three major networks who testified before the committee agreed with Gene P. Mater, senior vice-president for policy at CBS, who said, "We don't accept Dr. Gerbner's figures. We don't accept his methodology. We don't ac3cept his approach."
Mr. Mater was accompanied by David M. Blank, vice-president and chief economist at CBS. Mr. Blank, who has conducted a study of televised violence for the network, said that, overall, there has been very little change from last season in the amount of violence. And on a long-term basis, his report states, the violence level in the current season is "considerably lower than in previous years, and is, in fact, one-third less than the high point of violence in 1974-75."
Mr. Mater also said that, in the time since the Surgeon General's report on television and violence in 1972, further evaluation by social scientists and critics has resulted in a "blossoming" of dissent against the original conclusion that there is a link between televised violence and aggression in children. He quoted Eli A. Rubinstein, one of the researchers who helped update the Surgeon General's report, who wrote, "...paradoxically, the hundreds of studies in the past decade have apparently served to support diametrically opposing conclusions."
Mr. Rubinstein has said, however, that most evidence still points to a link between televised violence and aggression in children.
The difference between the two studies, as in years past, lies in the definition of violence used. The CBS study defines it as "the use of physical force against persons or animals," either performed or threatened. But the networks continue to reject what Mr. Mater called "comedic violence."
"When Bugs Bunny gets run over by a truck and bounces back up again, we don't consider that violence," Mr. Mater said.
Mr. Gerbner said that it is not the job of a researcher who is indexing violence to make such judgments, adding that "studies show that humorous messages are as effective as serious messages. But the point still is: What is the message?"
One member of the committee, expressing exasperation with the continuing discussion of research methods, offered a personal anecdote: "My child put his fist through a plate glass door and almost bled to death," he said, "after watching Bluto bust through some glass on a 'Popeye' cartoon."
Sense of Familiarity
"I feel like this is four years ago," one observer said of the hearings.
And since that time, "It doesn't appear that the problem has gotten very much better," said committee chairman Timothy E. Wirth, Democrat of Colorado.
The problem remains to decide, the committee members agreed, just what the federal government can do in this area. "We're sitting here not accomplishing much," said Allan B. Swift, Democrat of Washington, "unless this discussion leads to what we can do in the context of the first amendment.
"Presumably," Mr. Swift continued, "if we establish standards in federal law, doesn't that mean we'll have to have a federal judge to enforce them?"
"We're talking about the responsibility of broadcasters," Mr. Wirth reminded the members. "That's the fundamental issue."