Lawmakers Urge Media Self-Censorship

Author:
Publish date:

Washington -- Stunned by horrific scenes from the
Littleton, Colo., high-school shooting, key Capitol Hill lawmakers last week called on the
entertainment industry to stop churning out violence-laced movies, recordings and video
games that they say trigger homicidal rages in unstable teens.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- joined by Rep. Edward Markey
(D-Mass.), Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) -- urged President
Clinton to organize an emergency summit to convince the "entertainment
community" that it is contributing to youth violence that must be stopped.

The White House is expected to support the request. Vice
President Gore said last week that advertisers should boycott offensive TV programs, and
he urged NBC to end its opposition to the use of on-screen ratings that inform parents
about sexual and violent content.

Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association
of America, said MPAA president Jack Valenti "would be happy to attend any conference
convened by the White House."

Several cable programmers last week warned Washington
against blaming the entertainment industry and television for somehow sparking the murders
in Littleton. They said officials should be asking for answers from the gun industry, and
not the entertainment industry.

Former USA Networks chairman Kay Koplovitz, who spearheaded
the "Erase the Hate" campaign when she was at USA, attended a 1995 summit on TV
and violence that President Clinton conducted -- a session that she described as a prelude
to creating a TV-ratings system.

But she doesn't think that a second summit relating to
the media and violence will be particularly productive.

"I don't think that we'll find out anything
new," said Koplovitz, who now heads her own holding company, Koplovitz & Co.
"It's going to be a public spanking … It's so simplistic to say that
the media is causing this. It's a knee-jerk reaction to two teen-agers gone wrong,
and it is sidestepping the major issue that this society refuses to address: access to
guns."

She said she'd like to see a summit of gun
manufacturers, with them being called to task for the easy access that people have to
handguns.

Gerald Levin, chairman of Time Warner Inc., addressed the
issue head-on during a speech at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society Newsmaker
luncheon last Tuesday.

"It will be particularly unfortunate if the tragedy
that took place in Littleton, Colo., initiates a new season of political opportunism and
moral arrogance intended to scapegoat the media," Levin said.

"The profoundly serious issues raised by this terrible
event -- not the least of which is the insane proliferation of guns -- deserve to be part
of a constructive, considered national discussion," he said.

Added Levin, "It would be a disservice to the truth --
as well as an insult to the memory of the students who lost their lives and the teacher
who died trying to save them -- to allow this incident to become part of self-serving
election-year strategies."

The violence issue hits especially close to home for Time
Warner on several levels.

Time Warner and its New Line Cinema unit were both involved
in The Basketball Diaries, one of the movies that Lieberman cited last week.

Time Warner and New Line are among 25 defendants being sued
by the parents of three students who were murdered in a 1997 shooting rampage at a
Paducah, Ky., high school. The $130 million lawsuit, filed in April, alleged that the
movie spurred the Kentucky incident.

And in a tragic personal note, Levin has known the impact
of violence himself, as his son was murdered in 1997.

USA Networks Inc. president of operations Stephen Brenner
also said it's too simplistic to hold the media responsible for Littleton, and
it's no excuse to try to trample the First Amendment by regulating programming and
ideas.

"Whatever happened with these two kids, there are
thousands of things that could have affected their behavior," Brenner said.
"It's too easy an out to blame television. People now have easy access to
weapons of mass destruction. That's the problem."

As for the four Senate and House members' call for a
summit, Brenner said, "It sounds real good in terms of being re-elected."

At a press conference last week, the four lawmakers accused
the mass media of bombarding kids with rivers of violent thoughts and images.

They said the violence, when combined with easy access to
guns, results in scenes like the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton
that led to the murder of 12 children and one teacher and the suicide of the two teen-age
gunmen.

"It's a deadly cocktail of guns and media
violence, which obviously has invaded the lives of the children of our country,"
Markey said.

The four lawmakers are supporting a resolution that would
require the Surgeon General to study media violence and its impact on children and
recommend steps to combat any harmful effects that the report details.

Lieberman denounced both TheBasketball Diaries,
which includes scenes of a high-school killing, and Oliver Stone's Natural Born
Killers
.

Lieberman warned that if producers of gratuitous media
violence fail to take voluntary steps, they could count on government censorship spurred
on by an angry and emotional public.

His theory might be tested sooner than he expects.

Within the next two weeks or so, Sen. Ernest Hollings
(D-S.C.) is planning to force a Senate vote on his bill (S. 876), which would require TV
stations and cable operators to air "violent video programming" only late at
night, when children are unlikely to be watching TV in large numbers.

The Federal Communications Commission has traditionally
classified the safe-harbor period as falling between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The bill would allow the FCC to yank a TV station's
license, or any license held by a cable operator, for violations of the time-channeling
rules. The bill, which wouldn't take effect for a year, would exempt cable premium
and pay-per-view programming.

The lawmakers added another target besides television and
movies: the Internet.

"The Internet is the greatest thing that has happened
to America in many respects. In other respects, it's a place to go to find out how to
make bombs, how to buy drugs and [how to find] the most hateful and worst language I have
seen in my life," McCain said.

Markey made comments last week reflecting new sensitivity
among congressional Internet proponents about the double-edged nature of the technology,
with its capacity to give schoolkids equal access to libraries and a nihilistic
netherworld.

"What happened last week is that every parent in the
United States was given an intensive course on the impact that the Internet and
interactive media can have on their child," Markey said.

Three years ago, Markey was instrumental in passing a law
that required the FCC to tax phone users in order to cover the cost of wiring every
classroom to the Internet.

The cable industry jumped on the bandwagon by committing to
wire schools and libraries to the Internet free-of-charge.

Related