THE three major Australian television networks last week agreed to limit the broadcast of violent and sexually graphic movies. The step will lose the industry money, but observers here say the networks are responding to a national outcry about rising crime levels.
Prime Minister Paul Keating had been calling for the networks to clean up television for three weeks, saying that the effects of adult programming on children was detrimental. The networks had resisted, offering instead to broadcast pre-program warnings.
The networks say they already extensively edit cinema movies for television. Tony Brannigan, general manager of the Federation of Commercial Television Stations, says moving the start-time for movies that show violence and sexual activity from 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. "is a change that we were reluctant to agree to, but did so apprehending that the legislative alternative might be worse."
Opposition leader John Hewson has called for legislation banning violent adult programming before 9:30 p.m. This is one issue on which Mr. Keating and Dr. Hewson agree. The two are jockeying for position in a tight, unofficial campaign for the federal election, which should be called early next year.
Mothers' organizations and church and community groups supported the new limit. A recent petition by the Australian Family Planning Association calling for an end to sex and violence on TV was signed by 50,000 people. A Newspoll survey found that 72 percent of those surveyed wanted violent, adults-only material to be screened only after 9:30 p.m.
The limit is part of a larger protest against increasing levels of violence in the country, particularly against women. There have been "Take Back the Night" demonstrations by women's groups and increasing calls to the prime minister to ban guns.
As Australian television increasingly looks more and more like that in the United States, with more violence, there is the possibility here of more serial murders and sexual killings, says Prof. Paul Wilson, a leading criminologist. As sexual violence is seen more in mainstream media, Australia will follow the US pattern, he says.
"Violence in the media is an issue ... that's going to increase in significance as we become more and more media-dominated and as our media becomes more and more privatized," says Anne Summers, Keating's adviser on women's issues.