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House Gives TV Plan Mixed Review : Congress: Although the advisory labels are called a positive first step, a panel urges executives to stop airing so much violence.

July 02, 1993|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee gave a cool reception Thursday to the network television plan to use a parental advisory label on violence-prone shows beginning this fall.

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Most members of the telecommunications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee welcomed the labeling plan, announced Wednesday by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, as a positive first step. So did President Clinton, who wrote identical letters to network executives saying, "I applaud the action taken," and adding, "Millions of parents are rightly concerned that their children are exposed to far too many graphic pictures of murder and mayhem."

But in separate statements at the House hearing, legislators were nearly unanimous in declaring that the advisory label was no substitute for more serious industry efforts to eliminate excessive violence from television programs viewed by children.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the panel, and several others said they would seek to require manufacturers to equip new TV sets with an electronic "blocking" mechanism to allow parents to screen out shows they deem undesirable for their children.

The hearing was one of a series called by Markey to hear from network, cable and independent broadcasters about plans to deal with television violence. He said that "parents want the ability in their own homes to control what kind of programming arrives on TV." He also pledged that "the hot glare of congressional attention will continue" focusing on the industry.

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Rep. John Bryant (D-Tex.), the panel's ranking member, complained that television executives "sat on their hands for three years" before announcing the rating system this week, a plan Bryant called "laughable and contemptible if they think this solves the problem."

Bryant told nine executives at a long witness table in front of him that the "totally inadequate" labeling plan must be followed by "a serious attempt to stop putting violence on the air."

Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) said the eight-word parental advisory, to be used before especially violent programs and during commercial breaks, was "a very positive first step."

The advisory, to be used when determined by individual networks, reads: "Due to some violent content, parental discretion advised." Network executives said Wednesday there were no series on the air now that would qualify for the label.

Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told executives that "what you put on TV with guns and knives becomes reality in the streets when viewed by many kids. I'm encouraged by the warning label but it's just a step."

Referring to the chance of tough legislation, Hastert said that "no one likes censorship, but consumers speaking out and demanding better judgment is very much a part of our system."

Other members said they might adopt legislation requiring the Federal Communications Commission to regulate violence on television shows.

Testifying to the subcommittee, Thomas S. Murphy, board chairman of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., said he hoped "government entanglement in the media" could be avoided.

He said he wanted to assure the panel that beyond the new labeling system, network executives "recognize our responsibility to guard against the broadcast of excessive or gratuitous violence."

Although cable television executives did not participate in the parental advisory label, many are expected to follow suit under pressure from Congress and the public.

Winston H. Cox, who heads Showtime Networks Inc., one of the largest cable movie systems, told the subcommittee that "there is a place for programs containing non-gratuitous violence on subscription television."

But Cox supported the idea of "fully informing viewers of a program's content."

Cable programming networks are working to develop their own guidelines and will take part in an industry-wide conference about TV violence Aug. 2 in Los Angeles, Cox said.

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