March 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Study Pans TV Rating System Researchers Say System May Actually Be Luring Kids To Most Violent Shows

Larry Williams Knight-Ridder
 
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A new TV rating system designed to guard children against on-screen violence may actually be luring kids to the most violent shows, researchers warned on Wednesday.

TV ads aimed at discouraging violence don’t work very well either, they found. And, despite the recent attention to the effects of TV violence, they found its overall level held steady last year.

The researchers analyzed more than 6,000 TV shows during the last two years, as part of what is believed to be the largest effort to assess TV violence. Their work was paid for by the cable TV industry and overseen by an independent panel.

The programs analyzed were on 23 commercial, public and cable channels between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. from September through May.

Among the study’s findings:

Children’s cartoon programs have high concentrations of violence and pose particular risks for making young children more aggressive.

The researchers spotted more than 800 high-risk cartoons, including such danger signs as an aggressor who was attractive, violence that seemed justified, or violence that went unpunished.

TV violence is frequently glamorized and sanitized. More than half of the violent incidents failed to show victims suffering pain.

Very few programs feature violence in a way that actually discourages it - only 5 percent last year.

Violence on TV is not necessarily bad, researchers noted, citing the movie “Schindler’s List” as an example of a very violent program that carried a powerful anti-violence message. But some violence, they said, can increase aggressiveness, make children less sensitive and promote fear.

The researchers’ conclusions are certain to fuel the continuing political controversy over recent efforts to limit children’s access to sex and violence through warning labels and the V-chip parental control device, mandatory on televisions sold after 1997.

Under the current TV rating system, programs rated TV-Y are suitable for young people; TV-7 for children 7 and older; TV-G for general audiences; TV-PG, in which there is limited violence or sexually suggestive dialogue; TV-14 may contain material inappropriate for children under 14; and TV-M is for mature audiences only.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, defended the TV and movie ratings, both of which he helped develop.

“This kind of a survey will give research a bad name. What’s more, after 28 years, 79 percent of parents find the movie rating system very useful to fairly useful,” he said.

Dennis Wharton, vice president for media relations at the National Association of Broadcasters, said the study reaffirmed that parents need to take a greater role in their children’s television viewing. He said the new ratings will help.

Since early this year, broadcasters have been voluntarily rating programs in six age-based categories, intended to be used with the V-chips. But the researchers said such ratings draw kids to problem programs.

Basing the TV ratings on age “runs the risk of making parenting harder by attracting children to the very programs we’re trying to shield them from,” said Dr. Joanne Cantor, a television ratings expert at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Cantor ran a study in which children were given program and movie descriptions and were asked how much they wanted to see each one. Interest soared when the ratings of shows were changed from “G” to “PG-13” or “R.” Kids also were attracted by the warning “parental discretion advised.”

What’s more, Cantor said, the current television ratings are too complex for most parents. She noted that some children argue they had a right to see programs with the TV-7 rating because they are over 7, regardless of what their parents think.

The researchers - from the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of Texas, Austin; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, outlined their results at a press conference here and offered advice.

They urged broadcast industry executives to change the ratings system and do better jobs of showing negative consequences of violence when they portray it.

They told producers of current anti-violence public service slots to stop using celebrities to tell adolescents not to be violent. It would be better, they said, to show the consequences of violence. Celebrities frequently aren’t credible, they said, and the most effective spots are those that show kids in wheelchairs or paying for violence in other ways.

And they cautioned parents there is no substitute for watching the programs their children watch, to see how what they are seeing and how they react to it.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR MORE INFORMATION Copies of the executive summary of the report, titled “National Television Violence Study Volume Two,” can be obtained for $10 from the Center for Communication and Social Policy, Community and Organization Research Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93106. The Institute’s electronic mail address is ccs(at)omni.ucsb.edu. Its Web site is http://research.ucsb.edu/cori/ccsp.html

This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR MORE INFORMATION Copies of the executive summary of the report, titled “National Television Violence Study Volume Two,” can be obtained for $10 from the Center for Communication and Social Policy, Community and Organization Research Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93106. The Institute’s electronic mail address is ccs(at)omni.ucsb.edu. Its Web site is http://research.ucsb.edu/cori/ccsp.html


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