Networks said to have moved away from airing warnings of TV violence

September 17, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- In the premiere of "Missing Persons," a new series on ABC, a man abducts a young girl and fires a gun at police with one arm around the child.

"The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.," a new western on Fox, features bar fights, gun battles and a scene in which a woman defends herself from a would-be rapist by taking a bite out of his ear.

Violent television? Not according to the networks that air them.

In June, the four television broadcast networks pledged to start flashing warnings on violent prime-time shows to help parents protect their children from broadcast mayhem.

But with the fall season in full swing next week, not one series, old or new, will air the advisory that network chiefs unveiled at a Capitol Hill news conference: "Due to some violent content, parental discretion advised."

"The networks obviously did not do what they said they were going to do," Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders told a congressional subcommittee investigating television violence.

Network officials respond that they have aired violence warnings on a handful of television movies in recent months. Warning labels, they insist, aren't warranted for the regular season offerings. "None of our series are violent," said ABC spokeswoman Janice Gretemeyer, echoing similar comments from CBS, NBC and Fox officials.

But Ms. Elders and other critics accuse the networks of reneging on their promise. They insist they are not trying to censor the industry but merely want information that will enable parents to shield young viewers.

"There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime and violence in society," said University of Michigan psychologist Leonard Eron, who has studied the impact of television violence on children.

A typical 2- to 5-year-old watches 27 hours of television a week, according to A.C. Nielsen Co.

"The networks made all this noise, but they've moved away from any serious effort to put warnings on programs that really should have them. I'm very disappointed," said William Abbott, a Boston lawyer who represents the Foundation To Improve Television.

He believes networks are reluctant to air warnings because they fear that advertisers would shy away and says the Federal Communications Commission needs to establish a violence rating system for television.

Mr. Abbott ticks off a half-dozen new or ongoing network programs that he says contain enough violence to merit a warning to parents.

Among them: "Brisco County, Jr." on Fox; "NYPD Blue," ABC's grittynew cop show; "Walker, Texas Ranger," featuring martial arts star Chuck Norris; "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" on CBS; and the documentary-style "I Witness Video" on NBC.

ABC's "NYPD Blue" has drawn fire for its graphic depiction of sex, nudity and rough language. The network plans to air advisories with the show, but the warnings won't mention

violence even though the show's opener features the close-range shooting of a detective.

"Just because there's the use of a gun does not necessarily mean a show is violent," said Ms. Gretemeyer, the ABC spokeswoman.

(ABC offers viewers a toll-free hot line that lists the shows that carry an advisory and recommends shows of "family interest." The number is 1-800-213-6222.)

Even before the network's advisory system was set up, "Cops," a Fox documentary-style series about real-world police work, aired a vague warning about the show's "graphic nature."

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., yesterday called for an independent monitoring committee that would make a yearly report to the public about the state of televised violence, although he said the networks have made some progress in reducing violence in the new television season.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.wants new TV sets to carry a computer chip that could block violent programs.

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