President Clinton Monday warned that children are learning warped values from a heavy media diet of violence and sex and endorsed legislation to require new television devices that would allow parents to block channels or programs that they find offensive.
At the same time, Clinton came to the defense of public broadcasting - which is under assault by congressional Republicans who complain that it is elitist and liberally biased - as a wholesome alternative to the poor quality of many commercial programs.
“In our family this is known as the ‘leave Big Bird alone’ campaign,” Clinton told a symposium on the media and families, invoking the feathered emblem from PBS’ “Sesame Street.”
By aligning himself with federal support for public broadcasting and the “v-chip” for all new televisions - so named because advocates say it can block shows with excessive violence - Clinton was trying to turn tables in Washington’s debate over who is responsible for what many see as the debasement of modern culture.
A proposal to require that the v-chip be installed in all new televisions manufactured or imported into this country easily passed the Senate when it was included in the pending telecommunications bill. But the measure was opposed by broadcasters, and Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., complained that it “takes us one step closer to government control of what we see on television.”
“This is not censorship,” Clinton countered, not mentioning Dole or others by name, “this is parental responsibility.”
Clinton generally eschewed partisan comment at the gathering, the fourth in a series of annual meetings moderated by Vice President Al Gore on family issues. But his comments made clear that he recognizes the continuing potency of promoting traditional values.
While he criticized much that is on the airwaves and movie screens, Clinton also seemed determined to strike a tone that was not overly judgmental or censorious.
For instance, the president struck an ambivalent note about violent movies. He’s seen plenty, he said, in which violent scenes were the only way to deal honestly with difficult subject matter.
The problem, he suggested, is with the lack of intelligent context, as well as the sheer volume of dramatized bloodshed, “in which millions of people are literally desensitized” by overexposure to violence.