Simon sez bills now unneeded

Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) pledged Tuesday to resist passage of all anti-TV violence legislation following announcements by the networks and cable industries to hire independent researchers to monitor violent content in programming.

Simon’s promise came during the second of two entertainment industry press conferences on Capitol Hill, where battle lines were drawn between cablers and broadcasters in the raging anti-TV violence wars sweeping Washington.

Simon, who was heavily criticized by Hollywood six months ago when he called for formation of an independent commission to scrutinize TV violence, praised both industries for adopting the plan. “This is not pre-censoring (programs),” said Simon. “This is not a Hays Commission.”

The legislator said he will pleadwith members of Congress to back off on anti-violence legislation until results of an independent monitoring commission can be assessed.

Simon said he also plans to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno, who last year raised eyebrows among First Amendment advocates by proclaiming that three pieces of TV violence legislation passed constitutional muster.

At the press confabs Tuesday, most noteworthy was the bold public relations offensive served up by the cable industry.

Cable programmers, according to Showtime Networks chairman Tony Cox, endorse the monitoring proposal and two initiatives that are anathema to the four networks: “viewer discretion technology” similar to Rep. Ed Markey’s V-chip idea , coupled with a rating system on programs allowing parents to block out all V-rated programs.

Cox said cable support for the technology and rating system is contingent on backing from broadcasters. “This needs the support of all of the TV industry to be effective,” he said.

But TV network representatives insisted they are unalterably opposed to the two ideas, either legislatively or on a voluntary basis.

Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who has been a constant cable critic in recent years, was singing a different tune Tuesday.

He called cable’s endorsement of the V-chip concept and ratings idea a “tremendous gift to most parents in this country … We hope broadcasters will accept the challenge of the cable industry … The ball is now in the broadcasters’ court,” said Markey. Cox offered few specifics on how cable’s V-chip/rating plan would work, although he said it should be a “voluntary, self-administered standard” with each network deciding qualitatively which programs should carry violence ratings.

The industry may settle on a sliding scale that slaps “V,””VV” and “VVV” ratings on programs depending on their violence content, according to Cox.

Some 25 cable networks have endorsed the concept of viewer-discretion technology and a rating system, with a notable exception being USA Network.

“We need time to get this nailed down,” Cox said. If and when the TV networks sign on to the idea, he added, it should be implemented within nine months.

Not only do the broadcast networks disagree with cablers over the V-chip/rating plan, the two industries are also at odds over how Simon’s independent monitoring proposal should work.

Cox said he thinks a single monitor for both industries should suffice.

CBS senior veepee Marty Franks said broadcasters prefer hiring their own independent monitor, one that takes into consideration not only network violence but also violence on cable, homevideo and videogames.

Cablers also believe the monitor could release results of TV violence studies as many as four times a year. Franks said the networks support having an annual violence report beginning with the 1994-95 season.

All four networks reserved the right to withdraw support for an independent monitor should Congress press forward with legislation. There are nine anti-TV violence bills pending in Congress.

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