Three U.s Senators Speak Out: Why Cleaning Up Television Is Important to the Nation

The American Enterprise, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Three U.s Senators Speak Out: Why Cleaning Up Television Is Important to the Nation


These remarks are from presentations to the conference on TV programming held in Washington, D. C. in Center for Media & Public Affairs and The American Enterprises.

SENATOR PAUL SIMON

(D-Illinois, retired)

I got into the effort to clean up TV accidentally. checked into a motel in Lasalle County, Illinois, and turned on my television set. All of a sudden there in front of me in living color someone was being cut in half by a chainsaw. Now, I'm old enough to know it wasn't real, but it bothered me that night. I thought, what happens to a ten-year-old who watches this?

So I called my office the next morning and said, "Someone has to have done research on this; find out what research has taken place." My staff came back with all kinds of research showing that entertainment violence harms us.

I called a meeting of representatives of the TV industry and said, "I don't want government censorship, but I think we have to recognize we have a problem, and I'd like you to come up with the an swers." One of those present said, "Violence on television doesn't do any harm" I replied, "You remind me of the Tobacco Institute people who come into my office saying they have research that cigarettes don't do any harm." Then they said, "Well, we can't collaborate on this because it would violate the antitrust laws."

That led me to introduce a bill that included an exemption in the antitrust laws for television violence, and to give you some sense of the breadth of interest in this, my co-sponsors eventually included Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). Now that's a broad philosophical spectrum.

The industry opposed my bill. The ACLU opposed my bill, But we finally got he bill passed. George Bush signed it, And both broadcasters and cable operator began to adopt standards. I have to say they were fairly anemic, but they were better than nothing.

On the broadcast side, there has been progress. Arthur Nielsen of the Nielsen ratings says there have been significant improvements in terms of violence on the broadcast side--not going as far as needed, but still improvements. On the cable side, improvement is not perceptible.

At a meeting of about 700 TV and movie executives where I spoke, I said,"Many of you disagree with my conclusions. Why don't you do your own analysis of TV violence." And to their credit, both the broadcast and the cable industries authorized three-year studies. That research has recently come back, and I think they got more than they bargained for. The many damaging findings included the fact that three-quarters of all entertainment violence shows no immediate adverse consequences for the person committing the violence. The lessons for children and for adults, but particularly for children, is that violence pays.

The entertainment industry has periodically changed what it does and improved our society. For instance, if you look back at old movies and TV clips, you'll see the heros and heroines smoking and drinking much more heavily than they do today. I think this change is one of the reasons there has been a diminution in smoking and drinking in our society.

When television glamorizes violence, we imitate that. We have the most violent television of any nation on the earth with the possible exception of Japan, and there is one huge difference: In Japan, the people who commit the violence are the bad guys; people one wouldn't want to associate with. In American television, too frequently, those who commit the violence are the good guys.

The V-chip and ratings can offer an assist against objectionable TV content, but they are not a substitute for the industry's being responsible. First of all because children are technologically adept. I can't even program my VCR to tape a program. I have my son-in-law do it for me.

Second, the Nielsen ratings clearly show that in the impoverished areas in our country, which are also the high-crime areas, children watch 50 percent more television than they do in other areas; the TV set becomes a companion and babysitter. …

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