For two years, Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois has been urging TV networks to better monitor their own programming, and they have taken the first step toward that end. Last week, UCLA's Center for Communication Policy released a network-funded study examining programming over the 1994-95 season. The study specifically looked at violence - how much, in what context, and on what shows.
The results were decidedly mixed. As the researchers said, "the world of television ... is not as violent as we had feared and not as wholesome as we might have hoped."
Potentially, the study's findings could provide "a benchmark for better TV," as Senator Simon said. The networks should be commended for their willingness to pay for an independent audit over which they had no control and to continue to fund follow-up studies. The study found that regular network series and made-for-TV movies contain little violence, and that's good news. But the networks mustn't point to those results and say, "We've done our part, we've taken a close look at ourselves, and we've concluded that things aren't so bad."
No, things aren't so bad, but there is clearly room for improvement. Seven Saturday-morning children's shows were singled out for "sinister combat violence" or for containing "violence for the sake of violence." Also, 42 percent of the theatrical movies aired on the networks were deemed inappropriately violent.
Another problem: on-air promotions, many of which feature only strings of violent acts with no context. This isn't as surprising as the researchers think: Most viewers are accustomed to seeing promos that try to lure them in with dramatic highlights of specials about battered women, rapes, and other "real life" tragedies.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D) of Massachusetts, a proponent of "V-chip" technology, which would allow parents to block shows rated as violent, said the findings would contribute to a better understanding of how to label the shows. Maybe so. But more important, the findings should prompt ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox to seize the initiative and reevaluate such series as the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and "X-Men," where "fighting is what the shows are about." It shouldn't require a V-chip to block these irresponsible programs. The networks should do it themselves.
Most on-air promotions feature only strings of violent acts with no context.