TV Violence Soaring:
60% Of Programs Are Violent
By Christopher Stern
WASHINGTON (Variety) - Television programming continues to be dominated by violence, and the amount of violent programming in primetime has steadily increased during the past three years, a cable industry-sponsored study has found. Violent programming on the major broadcast networks has increased 14% in primetime since 1994, according to the study coordinated by the University of California at Santa Barbara's Center for Communications and Social Policy. During the same period, violent primetime programming on basic cable networks increased 10%, it says. The study is slated to be released officially Thursday. During the past year -- a year during which a television ratings system was put in effect -- primetime violence continued to increase, although at a slower rate, the study showed. Primetime network programming was 4% more violent, according to the study, while basic cable violence in primetime rose only 1%. The study endorsed the industry's decision to add content descriptions to the age-based rating system it introduced last year. The latest installment of the study confirmed its earlier conclusion that a majority of television programming is violent. ``Across the three years of the study, a steady 60% of TV programs contains violence,'' the study states. The three-year, $3.5 million National Television Violence study was paid for by the National Cable Television Assn (NCTA). Like the broadcasters who sponsored a study of their own, cable companies hoped back in 1994 that their promise to finance research into TV violence would head off V-chip legislation.
Of course, that bet did not pay off. Congress proceeded with the V-chip legislation while herding the television industry into a ``voluntary'' rating system. Three years later the television industry not only has a TV ratings system but also two highly detailed studies on the level of violence in television programming. The two studies, however, reach very different conclusions -- partly because the two groups of researchers took very different approaches. The $1 million broadcast industry study, conducted by UCLA's Center for Communications Policy, focused on the quality and nature of TV violence, while the cable companies' study focused on the quantity.
Last January, when UCLA released the last installment of its three-year study, researchers reported that television producers were doing a better job of portraying the consequences of violence, UCLA's Jim Reynolds said Wednesday. Reynolds said there was a notable improvement during the last year. ``There was more attention paid to the consequences -- both physical and psychological,'' said Reynolds. The cable industry study also looked at the consequences of the violence depicted, noting that ``bad characters'' went ``unpunished'' 45% of the time last year compared to 37% in the first year of the study.
NCTA president Decker Anstrom defended the cable industry against its own study, noting that it was an early supporter of the content-based TV ratings system, which has been in place since last October.
``This landmark research will provide further valuable information as we continue the hard work of addressing TV violence. Cable companies remain committed to providing families with a wide range of quality programming and the tools to help parents make the right viewing choices,'' Anstrom said in a prepared statement to be released Thursday.
The study is based on a review of programming aired between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. over all seven days of the week. About 2,700 programs were reviewed by the researchers. Over the three years, researchers reviewed more than 6,000 hours of programming.
While primetime programming with violence on network television increased from 53% to 67% during the last three years, primetime violence on non-network stations increased from 70% to 77%, the study found. During the same period, from 1995 to 1996, premium cable violence rose from 91% to over 95%. But in 1997, primetime violence on premium cable channels dropped to 87% of programming, according to the cable industry study.
A spokesman for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Wednesday that the high level of violence in TV programming demonstrates the need for the V-chip, which may be installed in some TV sets within a year. ``Despite three years of intense scrutiny, violence on television still persists,'' said Markey spokesman David Moulton. ``That's why some intervention is necessary. The only hope for a real change is something like the V-chip.''

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