Washington -- Too much violent TV can be hazardous to
children's health, child-development experts testified last Tuesday before a key Senate
One month after the shooting tragedy at Columbine High
School in Littleton, Colo., the Senate Commerce Committee held its second hearing on the
effects of violent programming on children.
The hearing came at an unusual time -- one week after the
full Senate rejected the legislation under consideration.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.),
was designed to create a "safe harbor" by prohibiting violent images from
broadcast television or basic cable at times when children are likely to be watching --
presumably between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The Senate voted down that bill 60-39 last week, after
Hollings attempted to attach it to a larger juvenile-justice bill.
Other measures related to the entertainment industry's
influence on children have been attached to the legislation, including a proposal to
remove antitrust impediments that would keep the broadcast industry from reinstating a
"code of conduct."
But experts testifying at Tuesday's hearing said a measure
like the one proposed by Hollings -- by far the most severe of various proposals being
debated -- could be needed if lawmakers really want to push programmers to change.
"Television is the most obvious, ubiquitous and potent
source of information available to children growing up in the United States," said
Leonard D. Eron, a psychology professor and research scientist at the University of
Michigan. "Children are not only being entertained, but educated by television."
Sometimes, television isn't a good teacher. Eron testified
that he helped to conduct several studies that found a causal relationship between
children who watch violent television and later display aggressive behavior.
A study done in 1960 in Columbia County, N.Y., concluded
that the TV violence children watch at age eight can be linked to levels of aggression 10
Young children have plenty of opportunities to glimpse
violent TV. About 6,000 violent acts were shown in one week, according to the recent
National Television Violence Study, examining 23 broadcast and cable channels.
The National Cable Television Association-sponsored study
examined how violent behavior was depicted in more than 8,000 programs, according to Dale
Kunkel, who did research on the study at the University of California.
Kunkel said the context of violent programming is as
important as the amount. One problem is that much of the violence on television does not
portray realistic outcomes of violent acts, often glamorizing the characters that
perpetrate violence, he said.
Remedies can be tricky, though. A First Amendment expert
questioned whether the Hollings measure would hold up to a legal challenge.
"Courts at all levels have ruled that violent
expression is constitutionally protected," said Robert Corn-Revere, a law professor
at Catholic University of America.
The courts would likely find the safe-harbor approach to be
a significant expansion of government authority, Corn-Revere said.
But Kunkel testified that the less intrusive, voluntary
system to shield children from inappropriate programming on television was not working.
In the two-tiered rating system adopted by the industry,
shows are assigned an age-based ranking, as well as content descriptions, such as
"V" for violence. But a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 79
percent of programs with violent material did not display "V" ratings, Kunkel
The ratings are designed to work with the V-chip -- a
screening device required to be installed in one-half of all new television sets by this
Experts and lawmakers questioned whether the V-chip would
be able to effectively block out unwanted programs if the ratings data are not accurate.
"We have evidence that the ratings system is effete,
totally ineffective. And the V-chip is going to be ineffective for years," Hollings
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