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Views on TV Violence Reflect Generation Gap : Programming: A study shows that by large margins, older people are both less likely to watch violence and more likely to say there's too much on the air.

March 25, 1993|THOMAS B. ROSENSTIEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Americans under 30 are more likely to watch violence on television and are less sensitive to its effects on society than older Americans, according to a study released Wednesday on violence in news and entertainment programming.

Yet even older Americans are becoming convinced that some kinds of violence on TV are appropriate, according to the study by the Times Mirror Center for People and the Press. Older people concerned about violent entertainment programs, for example, think that although TV news is more violent, it is a fair reflection of a more violent society.

The survey of 1,516 Americans between Feb. 20 and 23 also found that while most Americans believe news coverage has improved over the last five years--despite increasing violence--entertainment programming has worsened, is too violent and is harming the nation by desensitizing its citizens.

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"People of my generation are hardened to violence because it has been part of our lives," Jeff Zucker, the 27-year-old executive producer of NBC's "Today" show, said in reaction to the survey. "We are more realistic about it and more . . . accepting of the fact that it is going to be on TV."

The survey comes at a time when television is under growing pressure on several fronts to reduce violence. Under prodding from Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), the broadcast and cable industries have agreed to meet this summer to discuss what steps might be taken, while several citizens' groups have launched anti-TV-violence campaigns.

In New York Tuesday, Howard Stringer, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, told an industry conference that violence in the United States has risen so greatly that it has become "hard not to think we had some role" in the conditions leading to it.

"We will be much tougher on programs next fall," he said during a panel discussion before about 600 media and entertainment executives and analysts at a conference sponsored by Wertheim Schroder & Co., an investment firm.

In the Times Mirror survey, age appeared to be the biggest factor in determining who watches violence on television. Seventy-four percent of viewers under 30 described themselves as heavy consumers of violent programs, compared to 51% of those 30 to 49 and 20% of those 50 and older.

Eighty-five percent of viewers over 50 believe that entertainment TV is too violent, while 69% of those between 30 and 49 agree. Only 57% of those under 30 sense that there is too much violence in entertainment TV.

In addition to age, geography is important in determining who watches violent programs. Fifty-three percent of city-dwellers describe themselves as heavy consumers of violent entertainment programs, compared to 42% of small-town residents and 38% of those living in rural areas.

Race also is significant. Sixty-nine percent of blacks describe themselves as heavy viewers of violence, compared to 53% of Latinos and 42% of Anglos.

Even as they worry about violence on TV, Americans also acknowledge that they are being desensitized by it. Fully 78% of Americans think "television shows so much violence that people grow up not being shocked by violence." Two decades ago, a similar survey found just more than half (53%) agreed with that statement.

Eighty-three percent think that TV news shows are more violent and bloody than a decade ago. Even though people think violence on TV news reflects reality, they still, by 73% to 20%, believe such violence is shown "mainly to attract viewers" rather than because it is necessary to "tell the story."

In the most extreme measure in the survey, 32% of frequent viewers of violent programming said they think public executions should be televised, double the number of infrequent viewers of violence who think the same.

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