Webs OK violence watchdog

Broadcast network execs have done an about-face and tentatively agreed to use an independent monitor to assess the violence content in programming.

However, the webs will continue to resist calls for a violence rating system and the insertion of a “V-chip” in new TV sets that would allow parents to block out all programs carrying a violence rating, industry reps said.

Network announcement of their support for the independent monitor could come early this week, as Congress returns from a long recess. The announcement is being viewed as an effort to ward off legislation, but it remains to be seen whether the capitulation proves successful given the anti-TV violence frenzy sweeping Washington.

Industry sources said the networks have agreed to a monitoring plan similar to one suggestedlast year by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.). The action by the webs comes amid reports that premium cable channel programmers such as HBO and Showtime have agreed to endorse the insertion of V-chip technology in new TV sets.

Lawmaker’s plea

Notably, cable industry endorsement of the V-chip is not contingent on backing from the four broadcast networks, according to one cable source. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the sponsor of V-chip legislation, on Friday implored broadcasters to back the V-chip and ratings proposals.

Markey said broadcasters are being “disrespectful of parents and harmful to children” by refusing to endorse the V-chip.

“Every sector of the TV industry is now supporting the proposal to give parents the power to control the amount of violence their children are exposed to on TV,” said Markey. “It is time for broadcasters to help parents control their children’s viewing, rather than frustrate these efforts.”

Cable TV execs will meet Tuesday with Markey and Simon to finalize cable’s plans to curb violent programming.

A cable source said even though the industry tacitly has agreed to support the V-chip concept, cablers would prefer Markey not proceed with legislation.

Lining up support

A key point remaining to be resolved is whether basic cable channel networks will join with the premium channels in backing the V-chip concept. Ted Turner has endorsed the V-chip approach for his company’s basic cable channels, but one source said execs at the basic cable net USA Network are opposed to the V-chip concept.

CBS senior veepee Marty Franks said Friday the Eye Web will “absolutely not” endorse the V-chip concept. “We think it’s the first step on the slippery slope toward censorship,” said Franks. NBC general counsel Rick Cotton agreed, calling the V-chip idea “unacceptable.”

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