Curbing Media Excess

ATTORNEY General Janet Reno has, in her now-familiar forthright way, pushed the problem of media portrayal of violence and vulgarity further into the American public spotlight.

Responding to recent incidents - and to the generally irresponsible attitude of many segments of the entertainment industry, especially television - Ms. Reno has warned that freedom of speech notwithstanding, it is time to clamp down on those who are unwilling to minimize their harmful effect on impressionable youth.

Reno doesn't lack supporters in this new initiative.

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The Senate Commerce Committee is considering measures that would ban violent programs during the broadcast hours when children are most likely to watch TV, order federal regulators to rate programs for their degree of violence, and require that broadcasters issue warnings of that violence.

Parental responsibility for guiding children's viewing habits by diligently monitoring the programs they watch is a crucial factor. It's not easy: How do parents keep watch on what their children see when viewing ``the tube'' at the homes of friends?

At recent hearings, Reno brought out one set of numbers that startlingly illustrates television's potential access to and influence on young Americans: On any given day TV outlets across the nation broadcast a combined 75,000 hours of programming.

Although many TV stations have tried to schedule programs unsuitable for young people at times when youths are least likely to have the opportunity to watch, at present there is no sure way to control completely children's access to TV.

This brings us back to the the matter of Reno, who appears ready to resort to some kind of government regulation.

``My instincts,'' she told the Senate panel, ``militate against government involvement in this area. But I also believe that television violence and the development of our youth go to the heart of our society's values.''

Warning labels on programs could help parents, encouraging the kind of home control that could reduce the likelihood of further federal regulations.

More troubling, however, would be proposals that infringe upon broadcasters' First Amendment rights. The notion of government-directed times for airing programs begins to move in that direction.

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