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The entertainment industry should take a leadership role in combating television violence by refusing to work on shows that glorify violence, delegates were told at a “Prime Time/Crime Time” seminar during the 14th annual Banff Television Festival.

“I don’t feel the problem is violence. It’s bad scripts. It’s a lazy thing to do, to create excitement just by having people killed,” said producer Mort Ransen.

Thursday’s seminar was wrapped up by Ransen’s proposal that committees, censorship and restrictions will not eliminate violent programming.

Taking a stand

“We have to be willing to earn a lot less money and say, ‘I won’t work on this script’ ” containing gratuitous violence, Ransen noted.

The suggestion was met with overwhelming applause from the 400 delegates in attendance.

The session began with a five-minute video depicting scenes of some of the numerous violent acts broadcast during the spring.

The 11-member panel included Marian Davis, CBS veep of international program development; Colin Leventhal, director of acquisition at U.K.’s Channel Four; Brent Harman, chief executive of Television New Zealand; Phyllis Platt, exec director of arts and entertainment at pubcaster CBC; and Dr. Gunter Struve, program director at Germany’s ARD.

Moderator Laurier Lapierre, who chaired a national task force on television violence, centered the discussion around three key issues: Whether violence was exaggerated, how children were affected, and what action should be taken.

Keith Spicer, chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal broadcast watchdog, said there was overwhelming evidence that repeated viewing of gratuitous violence can cause serious emotional damage to children.

Joan Pennefather, National Film Board chair, advocated an educational program to teach kids how to watch television. “I would propose that young viewers at an early age begin to develop their media literacy.”

The audience agreed that government regulation was not a viable solution. Broadcasters seemed to shoulder much of the blame for putting violent programming on the airwaves. Lapierre questioned whether broadcasters should be trusted to regulate themselves.

“If I came from Mars, I would have to conclude that the bastards (broadcasters) can’t be trusted,” he said.

But Susan Brinton, manager of business affairs and program development at CanWest Global Broadcasting, said broadcasters are not immune to social concerns.

She was part of a Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters committee that revised the broadcasting code to deal with the issue of violence. The proposal was presented to the CRTC, which expects to make a ruling in the next two weeks.