Senator Lights Fire Under TV Industry Over Violence
WASHINGTON — TELEVISION violence, long a lethal staple of industry programming, has begun to crest again as a subject of public and congressional concern.
This week's TV Guide, the national magazine covering the industry, contains a section devoted totally to violence on the tube. Heather Borden, a spokeswoman for the magazine, says it did its own study of violence over 10 stations in the Washington area, shared it with a symposium of experts, and is running the results in the Aug. 22-28 issue.
Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois, author of the Television Violence Act, is so outraged by the saturation of violence in TV that he is talking about calling for hearings on the subject. "We may very well have a hearing after the first of the year." His subcommittee on constitutional rights would hold such a hearing.
Senator Simon says: "I think the American people are not going to simply sit by and say, `Well, if they're not going to regulate themselves, we're just not going to do anything about it.' I think there is going to be a demand for some type of action. And I think we have to be very careful in this field because we don't want violations of the first amendment."
When Simon began his study of TV violence, he asked industry representatives to work together to curb that violence. He started his campaign after being horrified by a feature film on TV of a chain-saw massacre.
He told industry spokesmen that there had been over 100 studies of the relationship between violence on TV and violence in society, that 85 of them were substantial, and that both the surgeon general and the Institute of Mental Health had issued studies on it - finding violence on TV is causing violence in society.
Industry representatives told him they couldn't do anything about it because to get together and establish standards would violate the antitrust laws. Undaunted, he then introduced special legislation, which passed, giving them a three-year exemption from such laws.
A year and a half later, he is still waiting to see what the networks are going to do. He has heard that they have had two meetings in the last year and a half. The most recent one was July 24. An ABC source confirmed that meeting, saying that it included representatives of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Julie Hoover, an ABC spokeswoman, said: "They agreed to agree, and are now in the process of trying to draft language which will be edited and circulated actively. They're hoping to reach conclusions in the next co uple of months.
"They're working on trying to create some statements of principle," she said. "We [the networks] already have departments of standards and practices, which review every program before it goes out over the air. We don't see this kind of standards and practices review evident anywhere on cable."
Simon says: "My hope is that both the networks as well as the independents and cable will pay attention to this. But clearly one of the alternatives is some kind of Federal Communications Commission action.
The FCC does have a great deal of power over individual stations [the threat of relieving individual affiliates of their licenses, for instance]...."
Peggy Laramie, spokeswoman for the National Cable TV Association, says it has already acted: "The cable industry's response to Senator Simon's bill was to commission a study by Dr. George Gerbner, one of the foremost experts on television violence." She says they hope to be able to share the results of the survey with Senator Simon this fall.
National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Doug Wills says his organization held meetings on the subject starting in June 1990.
"Our broad statement of principles is a document saying `Gratuitous sex and violence do not belong on television.' That's all that we can do without court challenges on antitrust."
As to a ratings system with a V for violent programs, Simon says, "Congress doesn't have the power to institute a ratings system, but the industry could begin it with voluntary standards." They could draw up such a code in "48 hours" he says.
"The problem is one of will. What we need is the CEOs of ABC and NBC and CBS saying to their people `Let's be responsible citizens. Let's get together and establish standards.' "