H’w’d, police thyself

Though saying he’s unconvinced there’s a correlation between TV violence and street violence, Motion Picture Assn. of America prez Jack Valenti said Thursday that Hollywood must act more responsibly when creating programs.

Valenti, addressing a closing-day crowd at the National Assn. of TV Program Executives confab in Miami, said the entertainment industry “must … act as if TV is indeed a factor in anti-social behavior. … Our industry must confront one indispensable truth: Each of us has to be more responsible for what we create.”

The MPAA chieftain’s remarks came on the same day a coalition of 74 individuals and 64 organizations placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post urging Congress not to pass legislation regulating TV violence. Noted conservatives such as actors Charlton Heston and Tom Selleck and Reagan administration Secretary of Education William Bennett signed the ad, as did actors Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall and the rock group R.E.M.

In addition, the Writers Guild of America took out a similar ad Thursday in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.

Valenti claimed it’s impossible to draw “precise conclusions” from TV violence research, and he expressed skepticism about the government’s ability to become “surrogate guardian of family value standards.” Nevertheless, he said the country faces a “national dilemma” and that “we in the creative community have an obligation to be responsible for what we conceive, accountable only to our lucid, moral instincts.”

Government has no right to “force on you a design for the work you create,” said the MPAA head. But he said the creative community “can’t allow ourselves to conclude the First Amendment somehow is antagonistic to individual decision making.”

The issue, said Valenti, is whether Hollywood, broadcasters and cablers will accept “full responsibility for what they put before the American audience.” He said the industry has to act “as if there are viewers of television who will be inspired to do unhappy things to others because of what is absorbed by their viewing.”

Separately, opponents of anti-TV-violence legislation argued in the Washington Post ad that Congress should permit the industry to enact voluntary steps to end gratuitous violence.

Fundamental freedom

The ad stated, “As threatening as violence in our society is, we cannot allow fear and a sense of urgency to erode the most fundamental freedom upon which our nation was founded — free speech. We urge lawmakers and the administration to abandon pursuit of such legislation.”

Bennett said in an interview, “A lot of what’s on TV and in the movies is broken, but Congress is not the place to fix it.” He said one of the ironies of pending legislation is that none of the proposals address “violence in afternoon talk shows — the ‘Sally Jessy Raphael’-type shows. That’s the worst stuff in my opinion.”

Bennett also said he could support passage of Rep. Ed Markey’s V-chip bill because “that puts the control in the hands of parents, not Congress.”

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