BERLIN — The local entertainment industry is fending off government calls to curb TV, video and Internet violence after a teen shooting at a high school on April 26 left 17 dead.
Disaffected former student Robert Steinhaeuser killed 13 teachers, two students and a police officer at Gutenberg School in the eastern city of Erfurt before turning the gun on himself.
Steinhaeuser, 19, who was expelled in February for faking doctors’ notes and barred from retaking final exams he failed last year, used a pistol and a pump-action shotgun in the attack that drew immediate comparisons to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
The political reaction to the Gutenberg killings also mirrors the response by the U.S. government after Columbine, when congressional leaders threatened Hollywood with new legislation.
The shooting shocked Germany, where crime rates and acts of violence are low — and it was heightened when authorities found violent videos and computer games in Steinhaeuser’s home.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged TV network heads to discuss restricting violence in films on TV.
But although the industry is willing to discuss the problem, many representatives fear it will be made a scapegoat for what they see as a symptom of broader social ills.
“After such a tragedy, political leaders need a tangible culprit. It’s always easy to point the finger at the media,” says one industry insider. “If the government called in parents and teachers and held them responsible for such crimes, there would also be a cry of protest from the accused.”
“You can’t draw a parallel between violent films on TV and such a terrible event,” says Urs Rohner, chairman of the Kirch Group’s ProSiebenSat.1 Media. The group’s two main networks, ProSieben and Sat.1, are popular outlets for action programming.
Schroeder told TV execs that he wanted to discuss “whether we need a new and more effective means to restrict programs containing violence — by more consistent self-regulation, stricter release practices or tighter laws.”
Stefan Kuhler, a spokesman for Germany’s association of commercial broadcasters (VPRT), said the commercial TV industry would be willing to review and possibly strengthen its voluntary self-regulation policy, but would be against new laws.
Leading German web RTL says it does not broadcast films or series that present excessive violence, adding that the existing policy of self-regulation and laws protecting minors are sufficient. A spokeswoman said parents had a responsibility to control their children’s viewing.
In addition to tightening gun control laws and raising the minimum age for possession of weapons from 18 to 21, Interior Minister Otto Schily wants the production of violent videos punishable by law and called for more police raids on video stores that rent or sell illegal films.
The government will also target Internet providers.
Pulling in Net
“Nearly every type of filth and rubbish is available on the Internet,” says Schroeder, adding that he would seek talks with Internet service providers.
The attack might hold up one local movie — Uwe Boll’s “Homeroom,” about gun violence in American schools.
The fate of the pic, which recently wrapped and stars Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Pare and Patrick Muldoon, remains unclear.
A spokesman for Boll Produktionen said its fall release may be postponed.