Television Industry To Monitor Violence

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The broadcasting and cable industries last week took what one educator called "a baby step'' toward addressing the problem of television violence by announcing plans to have an independent monitor review their shows for violent content.

But several educators said the pressure on Congress to take stronger action on the issue will not fade because of the industry's voluntary measures.

"This is a very small step in the right direction,'' Arnold Fege, the director of governmental relations for the National PTA, said of the proposed monitoring system.

"But what [the television networks] really want to do is get legislators off their backs,'' Mr. Fege added. "They will posture around this unworkable plan until this fervor ... is over.''

Although many details remain to be worked out, the broadcast and cable networks' plan basically calls for an independent monitor paid for by the industries to review shows for violent content and make a report once a year.

A 'Turn in Our Culture'

Network officials argue that the step is a significant voluntary effort that will ultimately result in less violence on television. They also hope the plan will stem Congressional action on the issue; nine pending bills would give the federal government some role in reducing or monitoring televised mayhem.

"We think the use of a monitor eliminates the need for any legislative solutions here,'' Winston H. Cox, the chairman of the Showtime cable network, said during a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., an influential lawmaker on the issue, called the monitoring plan "a real turn in our culture'' and said he would resist legislative efforts in the current Congress.

"Monitoring keeps the public informed and, candidly, keeps pressure on the industry,'' he said.

But several of Senator Simon's Congressional colleagues said last week that they would continue their efforts to pass legislation this year.

Rep. Edward M. Markey, D-Mass., the chairman of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over telecommunications issues, noted that the broadcast networks continue to resist his proposal to put technology in television sets that would allow parents to block out programming rated as violent.

The cable industry last week went further than the broadcast networks by endorsing such "viewer discretion'' technology, as well as a violence-ratings system.

Beginning last year, broadcasters and cable networks began voluntary parental advisories of violent programs. But a ratings system similar to that used for theatrical films would be another step.

The broadcast networks last week repeated their view that bills mandating a ratings system and viewer-discretion technology would amount to censorship that would violate the First Amendment.

Classroom Karate Chops

The television-violence issue is being closely watched by education groups, and several representatives said they would keep up the pressure for stronger action.

"It has really touched a nerve with educators,'' said June Million, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "They are the ones who have to deal with kids doing karate chops on each other in the classroom because they have seen it on TV.''

The PTA, the N.A.E.S.P., the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National School Boards Association have been active in a coalition called the Citizens Task Force on TV Violence, which was created last fall by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

One task-force proposal calls for the adoption of a media-violence code similar to the one that recently went into effect in Canada. The proposal calls for no "gratuitous'' violence on television between 6 A.M. and 10 P.M.

"We want to work with the industry,'' Ms. Million said. "They seem to realize everyone in the nation has a problem with [television violence]. But they don't seem willing to come to grips with it.''

Vol. 13, Issue 20

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