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A Practical Approach To Television Violence

.. rial previously rated or labeled by the television industry as to violent content.(H.R.2888 3) After decades probing the issue in one congressional committee after another, it is time to acknowledge, emphatically, that the simple choice is between censorship and responsible voluntary conduct. There is, on this topic, no middle ground. While the government can cajole the industry, even talk over the industry directly to the American public, it is ultimately the public that must decide whether to watch, protest against, or turn off particular violent programming. It cannot be legislated on a program, by, program basis.

We face a far more diverse information and entertainment marketplace than existed when Senator Pastore squared off with three over the air television networks which then controlled more than 90 percent of prime-time viewing. Policymakers must recognize this reality in their continuing efforts to monitor and influence a program content issue such as television violence. Indeed, with rapidly advancing communications technologies capable of spreading more sources of information and entertainment to a large audience, the role of government in such matters should be diminished, not strengthened. Violence will not and should not disappear from America’s television screens. There will always be stories worth telling that contain conflict and violence.

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Our founding fathers had the wisdom to recognize the importance of freedom of expression to a democratic society. The architects of the Communications Act had the foresight to incorporate that fundamental principle of the 1934 Act when they specifically denied the government the power of censorship over broadcast content. And, those who have been entrusted with the responsibility for overseeing and administering the Act for the past sixty years have displayed similar wisdom in guarding this principle. The almost continuos forty-year record of congressional investigations, culminating in the 1993 violence hearing and numerous new concrete legislative proposals, provides compelling evidence that this principle cannot be taken for granted. However strong our common concern with violence on television, it is essential that the industry continue to police itself in response to legitimate criticism from viewers and their elected officials.

Congress passed the Television Program Improvement Act of 1990 which granted a specific temporary exemption from the antitrust laws relative to any joint discussion, consideration, review, action, or agreement by or among persons in the television industry for the purpose of, and limited to, developing and disseminating voluntary guidelines designed to alleviate the negative impact of violence in telecast material. (Judicial 84) Thus, after many years of a relatively healthy interplay between industry and government that always stopped short of legislation, Congress enacted a measure effectively demanding action on the violent content of television programs. While this first legislative step only voluntary self-regulation, it still poses a new, more menacing threat to the no censorship standard of the Communication Act. In sum, violence laws would represent the worst possible form of content regulation, engaging those entrusted to administer such laws in a process destined to highlight both the harm and futility of government action. It is my heart felt position that the issue of television violence can be dealt with in a mature, responsible manner without having our public officials, who are foresworn to uphold our ever precious Constitution, and ALL of the laws of our great land, pass legislation which will violate our right to view any and all programming that WE see fit.

In the spirit of cooperative societal decision making, the following suggestions appear to be unequaled in their non-partisan advisory quality. Furthermore, this would appear to be the only thoroughly contemplated reasoning that has occurred on any side of this issue. We will now examine what the role of each individual participant in this quandary should, in my opinion look like. Recognize that Practices and Standards departments are an inexpensive investment for the networks’ own peace of mind. The executives who run these departments at all four networks are extremely knowledgeable and should have unimpeded access to the highest levels of senior management. Except in very rare instances, these departments should have the final say on the treatment of issues of violence.

To program standards executives: apply to yourselves the standards you would apply to your competitors. (UCLA 16) The television creative community should recognize the risk that violence in television and film can be used to substitute for good writing. The best writers and producers in television can create characters and compelling stories without unnecessarily filling the program with the scenes of violence. Through your own organizations such as The Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors, the guilds and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences hold meetings and discussions on issues related to the use of violence: showing consequences, graphic-ness, the need for context and techniques to avoid over reliance on scenes of violence. Include the network’s development executives in these discussions.

(UCLA 16) The government must understand the important role that it plays in the issue of violence in the media. Do not underestimate your power to shape public opinions. As much as possible, speak to the television industry with one voice. Use your powerful voice to encourage, persuade, cajole and, when necessary, threaten. Recognize when progress is made. The television violence issue needs sustained leadership from the government. Broadcasters should not have to fear all understandings and arrangements disappear after every election or change in government.

(UCLA 17) Network affiliates must put pressure on the networks. Let them know what programming you do not like or which is unsuitable for your area. Do so with examples and with detail of the format, themes or scenes of violence you do not consider suitable. In conjunction with the network’s practices and standards department, create your own standards for network promotions and your own local and syndicated programming. Network promotions designed for 10:00 should not be run on your station in the afternoon or very early evening.

(UCLA 17) In our schools, media literacy should never replace social studies or science in the curriculum. But television is an important part of students’ lives. Teachers should ask their students about what they watch and how accurately it reflects their lives. Discussions of how television deals with gender and racial stereotyping, depictions of historical events and social trends can all be incorporated into existing lesson plans. Teachers can be more media literate and include these concepts in their teaching.

(UCLA 18) In the school of my own children, there is already in place the perfect format for just such a course. This is refferred to as Tech Ed., or, technical education. There is not currently a media literacy course offered, why not, certainly television is technical, and no doubt requires some form of education. Most importantly advice to parents. You cannot watch all television with your children, but you can occasionally watch your child watch television. You can ask them about what they watch.

What lessons are they assimilating? Can they distinguish between animation and live action? Do they realize that they can settle disputes without resorting to violence? Why do they like some television characters and not others? Explore some of the technological devices now or soon to be on the market to help you control what your children watch. If your television already has a channel block feature, learn how to use it. Whether or not there ultimately is a V-Chip, look at devices such as The Telecommander or TV Guardian that not only control which programs your children watch, but how much television and at what times. Make your views known to television stations and broadcast networks. (UCLA 18) Social Issues.

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