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Valenti Disputes Research That TV Sparks Violence : Hollywood: The Washington lobbyist blames street crime on poverty, racism and society's failure to meet young people's needs.


If there is one thing that's been missing in the heated national debate over television violence, it is a strong stand by someone willing to defend the use of violence in television programming.

That all changed Thursday when Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, spoke at a Century City luncheon sponsored by Town Hall of California.

"I do not believe television is a prime cause of violence in society," the Washington lobbyist for Hollywood said in his speech, calling into serious question the research that Congress has relied upon to link TV violence to violence in society.

"They (researchers) failed to make the connection," said Valenti, who claimed to be "one of the few people who has read all that research."

To strengthen his point before the crowd of 300, Valenti displayed a book recently published by the National Research Council. "If you read this book, you will understand the social rasp that has been grinding into the belly of society," he said.

The book, titled "Losing Generations: Adolescence in High-Risk Settings," attributes street violence to poverty, racism and the failure of society to meet young people's needs.

In addition, Valenti appears to have prepared a rather elaborate defense in preparation for Monday's daylong conference in Los Angeles on violence in entertainment programming.

During the meeting, researchers, special-interest leaders and lawmakers will try to demonstrate to the television industry that violence needs to be dramatically reduced.

Valenti, who has been invited to be a panelist, has compiled a binder of information that summarizes, as well as criticizes, some of the most widely quoted studies on television violence.

"Congress and the TV industry should authorize someone, a dispassionate researcher, to certify and measure all the research that has been done to date--because it doesn't prove anything," Valenti said in an interview Thursday.

Valenti said he does not know why broadcast networks have not tried to refute the research before. He denies one popular theory: That networks are trying to accommodate Congress on the issue so they will be treated kindly on future rulings over the financial interest and syndication rules.

In a related development on Thursday, the major cable television networks followed the networks' lead in agreeing to air a warning to parents on violent programs. The warning could be applied to anything shown on cable, including movies.

Valenti urges Congress to address such issues as gun control. He remains confident that no legislation to limit television violence will ever become a reality.

Still, Valenti said, "If gratuitous violence on TV is responsible for even the tiniest jot of antisocial conduct, then we have to do our part."

For that reason, Valenti is planning to organize a series of small, private meetings with various industry groups, beginning in September, to suggest ways to portray violence more responsibly. He said that approach has worked for tackling other controversial issues in the past, such as on-screen smoking and drinking.

"But nobody is going to force a creative person to limit violence," Valenti said. "We're going to do it inside our own house."

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