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Violent TV takes hits on the Hill

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Wednesday urged the TV industry to consider adopting an MPAA-like rating system to warn parents of violence in programs.

The House telecommunications subcommittee chairman’s suggestion came during a hearing in which members of Congress delivered blistering attacks on industry efforts to curb violence.

Markey also said Congress may want to require technology in TV sets allowing parents to delete violent programs, and he criticized cable industry efforts to lure viewers to premium channels by unscrambling R-rated pix.

Citing the “tidal wave of violence, murder and bloodshed” during the May sweeps, Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) dismissed voluntary anti-violence guidelines adopted by broadcasters. He called them “a sham, a farce and an effort by the national networks to pretend they’re taking action … when they’re not.”

Rep. John Bryant (D-Texas) voiced his “utter contempt” for “Gucci-clad network executives,” likening them to tobacco-industry toppers who market cigarettes to young people.

“I think we ought to consider far stronger action” to limit violence, Bryant said.

Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who sponsored legislation passed by Congress giving the networks a three-year exemption from antitrust laws to develop a plan to limit program violence, said he has mixed feelings about Markey’s call for a ratings system on violent programs.

Such a system could backfire, according to Simon, who said R-rated films are the most sought-after among teenagers.

Simon said he is more sympathetic to the suggestion that TV sets carry technology capable of blocking out violent programming. However, he said technology is “not a substitute” for strong industry standards.

Lawmakers “have to come up with something that is short of censorship,” Simon said. However, he added, “If there’s not movement (by the industry), I don’t think there’s any question we’re going to be looking at alternatives.”

Simon was the voice of moderation at Wednesday’s hearing, arguing that lawmakers should wait for the network fall lineup before judging whether progress is being made. Nevertheless, he said, “Clearly higher standards are needed” to correct violent movie advertising on TV. He also expressed disappointment in cable industry efforts to curb violence.

In addition, the Illinois Democrat said he hopes a TV violence summit among program producers and network exex will produce results. It is scheduled Aug. 2 in Los Angeles.

Bryant was skeptical that the entertainment industry will change its programming “unless we hold a club over their heads.” He labeled voluntary guidelines “ridiculous” and said it is “irrelevant” that Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti is urging Hollywood producers to limit violent programming.

Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing included a group of academics who blamed TV violence for excessive societal violence.

“There should no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to television and film violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime and violence in society,” said L. Rowell Huesmann, professor of psychology and communications at the University of Michigan.

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