Fox challenges parents to control children's viewing TURNED ON IN L.A. Fall Preview

July 12, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- The fall preview press tour opened with a bang here yesterday as the chairwoman of Fox Broadcasting came out swinging against reform groups and some members of Congress on the issue of TV violence.

For months, the broadcast networks have been going to Washington, taking their lumps at hearings and then promising to do better in terms of TV violence.

Suddenly, it looks like the networks are going to fight back -- or at least use the three-week press tour on their home turf to make a case against such reform proposals as ratings systems or channel blocking devices built into TV sets.

"The very idea of [something like] the V-chip scares me," says Fox chairwoman Lucille S. Salhany of the built-in devices that allow parents to block violent programming from their children's viewing options.

"Have we so abrogated our responsibility as parents to talk to our children about things like violence on TV that we have to ask technology to stand in for us?

"And what comes after the V-chip, the S-chip to block programs deemed too sexy? A P-chip, maybe, to block channels some might find politically suspect?" Ms. Salhany continues. "And what about an N-chip, because, after all, the most graphic violence on TV is seen on news programs?"

Maryland educational officials last week urged legislation requiring that all TV sets sold in the state have the V-chip capability, a move Ms. Salhany decries.

Ms. Salhany -- who has two sons, ages 8 and 5 -- says "individual parents" should make their own decisions on what their children should watch and not let the government get involved.

She, for example, recently refused to let her older son watch a segment of "In Living Color," a Fox Show.

"I just told him that the segment he wanted to watch was not for little boys. That's my role as a mother. That's not the role of someone in Washington," says Ms. Salhany, declining to specify which segment of "In Living Color" she was referring to.

More tough talk like Ms. Salhany's is expected from other network executives in days to come. Sources say it is a reaction by the networks to the widespread criticism of their recently announced plan to voluntarily place warnings on violent shows this fall.

The plan was cited by such critics as U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts as the TV industry's admission that TV and real-life violence are linked.

But Ms. Salhany challenged such a connection yesterday, saying, "I have some doubts. It has not been proved one way or the other."

As a parent, she says, "Before my children go to someone's home to play, I don't call the parents to find out if they have a television set in their home. I call to see if they have a handgun.

"I think you have to look at the total picture," says Ms. Salhany, "and you can't just blame the ills of society on television."

The only Fox show certain to carry a warning in the fall, Ms. Salhany says, is "COPS," which already carries one.

Of the four networks, Fox is the least violent because sitcoms -- rather than action or adventure shows -- dominate its lineup.

Fox has, though, been the network consistently testing the limits of sex and taste in recent years with shows such as "Married . . . With Children."

Ms. Salhany says members of Congress have told the networks they are not going to concern themselves with the sexual content of shows.

"Washington has very clearly stated that they would not get involved in the area of sex," she says.

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