A Practical Approach to Television Violence




As difficult as this issue is, I believe it can be
addressed. My report shows that some progress has already begun in
several areas. Attention needs to be focused on how and why some
programming has begun to move in the right direction and why the rest
has not. "What this issue needs, more than anything else, is cool heads
on all sides of the problem: the network executives, the creative
community, the government, researchers and advocacy groups. All sides
need to worry less about how each development affects only them and
instead look at the needs of everyone."(U.C.L.A. 5)
In the broadcast world, the four television networks, ABC,
CBS, FOX, and NBC, have begun to get the message about television
violence. The programming they completely control, series and
television movies, has, for the most part shown some promising signs and
now reflects, on the whole, relatively few issues of concern as compared
to other network television formats. I contend that this is a result of
consumer pressure, rather that governmental regulation. The violence
contained in the most disturbing television series is minor in
comparison to that contained in theatrical films shown on network
television. And that violence, edited as it is, is tame compared to
films shown in theaters, in home videos and on pay cable.
Today, we see few programs with violence as their central
theme. More programming uses violence well or does not use it at all.
The public seems to be responding. Of the top 30 shows of the season,
only two are listed as raising concerns about violence. It is possible
to create popular programs that do not resort to inappropriate uses of
violence. Advisories need to be more consistently applied here.(U.C.L.A.
13)
Ultimately, however, it was the regulatory framework
established by the Communications Act of 1934 and a belief and trust in
the strong private broadcasting system that has been allowed to evolve
within that framework that proved most crucial. Section 326 of the
Communications Act provides the abiding standard. In matters of
content, "nothing in this chapter shall be understood or construed to
give the [Federal Communications] Commission the power of censorship
over the radio communications or signals transmitted by any radio [or
television] station, and no regulation or condition shall be promulgated
or fixed by the Commission which shall interfere with the right of free
speech or radio communication."(U.S.C. 31) This body of laws clearly
define any governmental involvement as a non-viable scenario. The only
group involved in this volitile debate that feels otherwise is,
ironically, the government. Must we, the people, obey the dictates of a
government that refuses to obey those same dictates itself?
The tension over potential content regulation that filled
the air in the late 1960's and early 1970's, however, remains with us in
the 1990s as we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Communications
Act. While more hearings and reports littered the landscape throughout
the 1970s and into the 1980s, Congress assiduously avoided any acts
that smacked of direct content regulation.(House 64)
In 1990, however, this began to change as Congress took two
significant steps that threaten to alter drastically the delicate
balance previously maintained in this area. First, "Congress passed the
Children's Television Act of 1990, which not only sets advertising
limits in children's programming but requires the FCC, for the first
time, to consider the extent to which a TV licensee has served the
educational and informational needs of children when reviewing that
station's application for renewal of license." (Childrens 16)
As the 1993 Senate hearings drew to a close, an illuminating
exchange took place. The committee chairman, Senator Earnest Hollings
(D,S.C.), after hearing witnesses from the major networks, sought to
discredit their position by playing a video tape, in the hearing room,
of a short clip from the half-hour situation comedy Love and War. The
clip was from an episode in which the cast of male and female actors,
departing from their usual comedic wit in a restaurant that serves as
the show's regular set, engaged in a short slapstick barroom brawl
scene. Senator Hollings seemed appalled, strongly suggesting that this
type of prime-time "violence" was indefensible. Senator Conrad Burns
(R,Mont.), sitting on the same