Assembly gets bill to monitor violence on TV

February 09, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Legislation calling for the creation of a commission on television, and a statewide system to warn viewers of violent TV programs, was introduced yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly.

"The TV violence debate has come to Annapolis," said Del. Kenneth Montague, D-Baltimore City, who is sponsoring the bill in the House. State Sen. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, is sponsoring it in the Senate.

"What this bill proposes is not necessarily a ratings system on shows, but rather it would let parents know about certain things that are in the shows -- for example, violence, language, nudity, sex and drug abuse. It would give parents a better chance to parent," Mr. Montague said.

Proponents said the bill calls for a parental warning system with teeth -- unlike the nationwide violence advisory system announced by the broadcast networks in May.

The networks have sidestepped their pledge to warn parents of violent TV programs in recent months, rendering the national system all but worthless, according to a study by the office of U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.

At the heart of Mr. Montague's proposal for Maryland is a 23-member state commission on television, which would be under the State Department of Education.

The commission would include members from the TV industry in Maryland, as well as from the Motion Picture Association of America, the powerful lobby headed by Jack Valenti that has been leading the fight against reform on TV violence. Child-care professionals, teachers, students, state senators, delegates and advertising executives would also be part of the commission.

Two of the 23 spots would be filled by representatives from The Sun and Washington Post.

The reason for including the newspapers is that proponents believe the parental warning system can work only if information about violent and other questionable content is in newspaper listings, said Charlene Hughins Uhl, chair of the Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV, which is backing the bill.

Congressman Markey's study concluded that the national violence advisories are failing in part because the networks aren't trying to get warnings into newspaper TV listings.

Mr. Montague said that once the commission is established it can hammer out the details of how best to notify parents of content in TV shows.

His purpose in introducing the bill, said Mr. Montague, is to bring the TV violence debate to the Assembly "so that we can hear how the various constituencies feel about it."

Some of those voices are expected to be heard tomorrow, when advocates of TV reform hold a "community speak-out" on TV violence at 3 p.m. in the Calvert Room of the State House in Annapolis.

zTC Titled "TV Violence and Our Violent Society: How It Affects Kids," the forum will include a panel discussion and an open-mike session. Audience members will be invited "to share their experiences, concerns and recommendations on how to reduce the effects of TV violence."

The future of the bill will "depend on how much the public is interested in the issue," Mr. Montague said. "And then it will depend on how the Motion Picture Association of America reacts to it, because they are represented down here [in Annapolis].

"They may view this as an infringement on their First Amendment rights. I don't see it that way. I see it as a notification question . . . to help let parents know what's going to be on TV. But, let me tell you, there's a lot of money they're making of this stuff."

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