Citizen Group Fights Television Violence

WE'RE witnessing the ``ghettoization of television,'' Terry Rakolta says, referring to the ``incessant'' violence that floods our television airwaves.

Mrs. Rakolta, a mother of four, founded Americans for Responsible Television (ART), a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to reducing the amount of television violence during children's viewing hours. Based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., ART currently has 350,000 members.

In a phone interview with the Monitor, Rakolta explained the urgent need to reduce the amount of violence children see on TV and why the issue of television violence has dropped out of the media spotlight.

``This information is consciously being blocked out,'' Rakolta says. ``We're getting information blackouts because we have these huge media conglomerates now that own newspapers, television stations, and movie companies.

``Soon there will be only two or three people who control everything that we see and hear,'' she says, ``and those people will be accountable to only shareholders and bottom-line profits.''

``And there are no signs of [TV] violence really letting up, Rakolta says, ``Producers know sex and violence sells.''

By the time a child is 16, Rakolta says, he or she has seen approximately 33,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence on network television.

Today, 3,000 independent scientific studies from major medical organizations, education groups, and government coalitions ``say overwhelmingly that entertainment violence is creating criminally violent behavior in many children,'' Rakolta says.

While TV violence alone is not the cause of violent tendencies in children, Rakolta agrees, it is one element in the equation.

``We're not saying that entertainment violence is the only reason for violence in America,'' she says, citing poverty, drugs, the breakdown of family, and the declining state of the nation's school system as contributing factors. ``But you certainly cannot talk about violence in America without discussing the entertainment industry.

``I don't think a child picks up a gun and just starts shooting. There's been a lot of imprinting done before that.... The conflict resolution on television is almost always to use a gun.

``When I first started out five years ago, I thought kids had just turned bad,'' she says. ``And after five years, I realized that these kids are absolutely, unequivocally being programmed by corporate America to be violent....''

The industry's solution, Rakolta says, is to ``just turn it off if you don't like it.'' That was the reaction she got from a producer at Fox Broadcasting, when she called to complain about the ``raunchy, adult humor'' of Fox's ``Married With Children,'' which later led her to organize ART in 1989. ``At first glance, OK, that sounds right,'' she says. ``But there's still something missing in this equation.

``At the point and time that you turn off the television set, what you're doing is abdicating a very powerful public resource into private hands,'' Rakolta says.

ART is lobbying Congress to pass legislation to reduce the ``random, hard, psychotic violence'' on the public airwaves between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., when children comprise the primary television audience.

``We believe that after 9 p.m. ... the more adventuresome adult material should be able to come on,'' Rakolta says, ``but that doesn't include nudity.''

What will it take to reduce the amount of violent programs on our airwaves? Government regulation is the answer, she says. ``For the people who say that this is a First Amendment issue, our response to that is: `It's a public-safety issue; it's a public-interest issue,' '' Rakolta says.

``The Supreme Court has never accepted the absolutist view that there shouldn't be marginal restraints on the First Amendment when the public interest is at stake.'' For example, you cannot yell ``fire'' in a crowded theater, you cannot libel someone, and so on.

ART does not get involved in cable programming because that is a selected service.

* Americans for Responsible Television, P.O. Box 627, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303.

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