Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Prime-Time Violence 1993-2001: Has the Picture Really Changed?

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Prime-Time Violence 1993-2001: Has the Picture Really Changed?

Article excerpt

Concerns about television violence have sparked intense debate since television's earliest days. There is general agreement that violence exists on television, but because of differences in the way violence is defined and measured, there is little agreement, and considerable controversy, about the degree or amount of violence (Signorielli, Gross, & Morgan, 1982; Signorielli, Gerbner, & Morgan, 1995; Lometti, 1995). The importance of the context in which violence on television is presented is a recent focus in this research (Kunkel et al., 1995; Smith et al., 1998). This analysis will update our knowledge of the portrayal of violence on television by examining week-long samples of prime-time network programming broadcast between the spring of 1993 and the fall of 2001, looking for change in the amount of violence as well as more information about the context of violence. This study provides an opportunity to replicate some of the work of both the Cultural Indicators Project and the National Television Violence Study (NTVS). The sample spans 9 years of prime-time broadcast programming and includes variables that permit comparisons with studies conducted during the past 30 years.

The Policy Perspective

In the past forty years, public concern about television violence has fluctuated, almost cyclically. For the ten years between 1968 and 1978, there was considerable public concern and numerous Congressional Hearings about the amount of violence on television. Most, if not all, of these hearings did not result in substantive action (Hoerrner, 1999). Public debate subsided during the 1980s era of deregulation. Concern about television violence surfaced again in the early 1990s with the passing of the Television Violence Act (designed to protect the networks from antitrust action if they joined to talk about ways to reduce violence on television). Toward the end of 1992, when it appeared as though little had changed in regard to television violence, the close expiration date of the Television Violence Act prompted its author, Senator Paul Simon (Democrat-Illinois), to warn of harsher legislation. The result was a renewed promise by network executives that they would explore ways to reduce violence in prime time (Dustin, 1992). In 1993, for the first time since the late 1970s, Congressional hearings on television violence were held and a number of separate bills relating to television violence were introduced in Congress (Hoerrner, 1999). In response to Congressional concern, the television industry implemented parental "advisories" before those programs they designated as "violent." These advisories, however, did not adequately solve the problem and an amendment was added to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that mandated all television sets 13 inches or larger, manufactured after 1999, be equipped with the V-Chip, an electronic device that enables parents to screen and block the programs their children watch on television. The television industry was asked to develop a rating system to use with the V-Chip to filter violent and sexually explicit programming (FCC, 2000). The result was the implementation of ratings (TV-G, TV-PG, TV-PG14, and TV-M), similar to those used by the motion picture industry, supplemented by advisories for content (V-violence, S-sexual situations, D-suggestive dialogue, and L-language).

The Theoretical Perspective

Numerous theories explain why the study of television violence is important and how it may affect viewers, especially children. Desensitization (see Potter, 1999) and social learning-social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), for example, examine the immediate and typically harmful effects of viewing violence. Cultivation theory, on the other hand, looks at viewing violence from a cumulative, long-term perspective, involving three areas: institutional-policy perspectives, messages about violence on television, and, ultimately, effects.

Cultivation theory argues that to understand the effects of viewing on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors we must examine television as a collective symbolic environment with an underlying formulaic structure (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shannahan, 2002). …

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