A Practical Approach To Television Violence

A Practical Approach To Television Violence As difficult as this issue is, I believe it can be addressed. My report shows that some progress has already begun in several areas. Attention needs to be focused on how and why some programming has begun to move in the right direction and why the rest has not. What this issue needs, more than anything else, is cool heads on all sides of the problem: the network executives, the creative community, the government, researchers and advocacy groups. All sides need to worry less about how each development affects only them and instead look at the needs of everyone.(U.C.L.A.

5) In the broadcast world, the four television networks, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, have begun to get the message about television violence. The programming they completely control, series and television movies, has, for the most part shown some promising signs and now reflects, on the whole, relatively few issues of concern as compared to other network television formats. I contend that this is a result of consumer pressure, rather that governmental regulation. The violence contained in the most disturbing television series is minor in comparison to that contained in theatrical films shown on network television. And that violence, edited as it is, is tame compared to films shown in theaters, in home videos and on pay cable.

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Today, we see few programs with violence as their central theme. More programming uses violence well or does not use it at all. The public seems to be responding. Of the top 30 shows of the season, only two are listed as raising concerns about violence. It is possible to create popular programs that do not resort to inappropriate uses of violence. Advisories need to be more consistently applied here.(U.C.L.A. 13) Ultimately, however, it was the regulatory framework established by the Communications Act of 1934 and a belief and trust in the strong private broadcasting system that has been allowed to evolve within that framework that proved most crucial. Section 326 of the Communications Act provides the abiding standard. In matters of content, nothing in this chapter shall be understood or construed to give the [Federal Communications] Commission the power of censorship over the radio communications or signals transmitted by any radio [or television] station, and no regulation or condition shall be promulgated or fixed by the Commission which shall interfere with the right of free speech or radio communication.(U.S.C.

31) This body of laws clearly define any governmental involvement as a non-viable scenario. The only group involved in this volitile debate that feels otherwise is, ironically, the government. Must we, the people, obey the dictates of a government that refuses to obey those same dictates itself? The tension over potential content regulation that filled the air in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, however, remains with us in the 1990s as we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Communications Act. While more hearings and reports littered the landscape throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Congress assiduously avoided any acts that smacked of direct content regulation.(House 64) In 1990, however, this began to change as Congress took two significant steps that threaten to alter drastically the delicate balance previously maintained in this area. First, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act of 1990, which not only sets advertising limits in children’s programming but requires the FCC, for the first time, to consider the extent to which a TV licensee has served the educational and informational needs of children when reviewing that station’s application for renewal of license. (Childrens 16) As the 1993 Senate hearings drew to a close, an illuminating exchange took place. The committee chairman, Senator Earnest Hollings (D,S.C.), after hearing witnesses from the major networks, sought to discredit their position by playing a video tape, in the hearing room, of a short clip from the half-hour situation comedy Love and War.

The clip was from an episode in which the cast of male and female actors, departing from their usual comedic wit in a restaurant that serves as the show’s regular set, engaged in a short slapstick barroom brawl scene. Senator Hollings seemed appalled, strongly suggesting that this type of prime-time violence was indefensible. Senator Conrad Burns (R,Mont.), sitting on the same panel, expressed a different view, he thought the scene was funny. The problem is compounded by the fact that virtually everyone concedes that some violence is good or acceptable simply because it is essential to a story line, necessary to depicting human conflict, or vital to reporting history and showing reality. No one would seriously regulate violence on news or sporting events or movies centered on the Holocaust of the Second World War. Even so,called objective: criteria would not help.

How many punches or bullets are too many? Does it matter whether the specific program is a serious drama, a situation comedy, or an action/adventure? Or should the criteria be applied indiscriminately to all programs as long as they are likely to be viewed by significant numbers of children comprising a certain age group? Many of the legislative proposals that began to surface in 1993 have been justified on the grounds that since Congress can regulate many of the finest creative works, is clearly not the equivalent of indecent material. Any governmental effort to sanitize, channel, or otherwise direct the depiction of violence on television would undoubtedly be so overboard as to have a severe chilling effect on all entertainment programming. The continuing controversy over violence on television has largely been spurred and shaped by members of Congress and not the expert agency on communications. The FCC, in fact, over its long history, has rather steadfastly avoided becoming a national censorship board on any topic,especially one so illusive and complicated as violence. Even after coming under intense congressional pressure in the mid,1970s to study and possibly step into this policy quagmire, the Commission pointedly rejected any direct governmental role in overseeing television violence: As a practical matter, it would be difficult to construct rules which would take into account all of the subjective considerations involved in making such judgments.

(Report 22) Predictably, enactment of the Television Program Improvement Act of 1990 led almost immediately to increased public pressure on the television industry to institute voluntary measures, followed by a series of hearings in both the House and Senate designed to assess the industry’s progress and performance.(Subcomm. 71) Moreover, unlike past deliberations, these most recent hearings were peppered with a number of specific legislative proposals. Included were measures that would, among other things, make it unlawful to distribute any violent video programming during hours when children are reasonably likely to comprise a substantial portion of the audience, (S.1383 11) A problem that becomes immediately apparent to me is there is no regulation that determines when children should be in bed. This may seem a bit rediculous, however, barring this form of regulation, any attempt at controlling violent content in the mass media through regulation would be largely ineffective. Parental enforcement is necessary.

I would also like to know what constitutes substantial. One method of attempting to control the content of television that appears to be acceptable on the surface, though quite minipulative, and subject to bias by the differing perceptions of the meaning of violence has been suggested by congress. This would require the FCC to issue quarterly violence television report cards ranking both programs and sponsors according to violence, (S.973 3) require all television programming deemed violent to carry video and audio warning labels, (S. 943 7) and require all new television sets sold in the United States to be equipped with a so,called V-Chip that would enable viewers to block the display of channels, programs, and time slots containing mate …


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