TELEVISION violence is bad for children. Moreover, TV violence
has been found to contribute to violence on the street. But what
should be done about TV violence?
Research scientists engaged in studies over the last 30 years
are convinced that the link between TV violence and on-the-street
violence is strong and clear. But how to curb the violence children
see on television without infringing on First Amendment guarantees
of free speech?
A historic conference on television violence last week in
Beverly Hills, Calif., may be the start of big changes. Industry
officials, writers, directors, programmers, and producers met to
hear and reply to some of the leading social scientists in
television violence research. But the most significant idea of the
day was dropped inadvertently and never picked up - the idea of an
ethics of television.
ABC News correspondent Jeff Greenfield moderated the two panels
(academics, then media pros). Mr. Greenfield pointed out that TV
violence has no constituency: Conservatives and liberals both hate
it. More important, after four decades of television, "more and
more Americans are convinced that some of what pours out of their
screen is having a baleful influence on their children."
Despite the response of many television professionals who
questioned the validity of the research and raised the specter of
censorship, the fact is that violent TV shows are relatively easy
to write, cheap to produce, and cross cultures easily. The TV
people came across as self-protecting, defensive, and fearful.
The television industry has been put on notice by the United
States Congress. Two bills introduced last week - one to federally
control the level of violence, another to require circuits in TVs
that would allow parents to "lock out" violent shows - put pressure
on the industry to clean up the airwaves before Congress does it
for them. At the conference luncheon, Sen. Paul Simon (D) of
Illinois told television figures that they had 60 days to make a
good-faith effort toward solving the problem of violent television
- or else.
Television is not simply a medium, it is an all-pervasive
environment, pioneering researcher George Gerbner of the University
of Pennsylvania says. Dr. Gerbner states, as does Leonard Eron of
the University of Michigan - also interviewed - that many parents
neglect their children. Many more work and cannot always supervise
- one-third of American children come home to empty houses every
afternoon. As a society, we reap what television sows, these two
Television professionals made valid points, too. Del Reisman,
president of the Writers Guild of America West, says, "It's such a
many layered problem: Cable, independent stations, networks -
everyone has to get involved in the solution. …