Yup, the tube is too violent, according to a three-year, $3.5 million study on television programming released Thursday. The report, sponsored by the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and conducted by researchers at four universities, logged thousands of on-air hours and saw lots of mayhem, usually glamorized and free of painful consequences.
No doubt the V-chip set will rejoice in the findings. Proponents of the censorship device have long held that the the airwaves aren't fit for youthful eyeballs--this study gives them more ammo.
Said the American Medical Association in a statement: TV's depiction of violence "increases the risk of learning aggressive attitudes." Rep. Ed Markey, the noted V-chip champion, pointed to the study's results and said, "That's why some intervention is necessary."
Although it didn't specify which shows were offenders, the report found that 61 percent of all those programs investigated last year (when the TV rating system began) contained "violence"--defined as not just the actual "use of physical force" but also "the credible threat" of such force.
Using this definition, 67 percent of prime-time programming on the broadcast TV was judged as violent. Basic cable rated 64 percent. Pay cable nets, such as HBO and Showtime, which air theatrical films uncut, rated a whopping 87 percent. Since 1994 the overall figures have risen 14 percent for networks, 10 percent for cable.
These figures contradicted those of a $1 million study funded by the broadcast networks and conducted by UCLA's Center for Communications Policy, which earlier this year stated that violence on the networks ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox was declining.
This network-sponsored study also claimed that more attention was being paid to the consequences of violence, both physical and psychological. However the cable-sponsored study noted that 45 percent of "bad characters" went unpunished last year, compared to just 37 percent in the study's first year.
NCTA President Decker Anstrom tried to put a positive spin on a study that disses his industry. He said cable is dedicated to "providing families with a wide range of quality programming and the tools to help parents make the right viewing choices."
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America and architect of the TV rating system, was less politic. He criticized the findings, suggesting the study contained "blurred and ephemeral numbers."
"When an academic says TV is more violent, I don't know what they mean by that," he groused to the Washington Post. "Look at the vast majority of programs that Americans watch--Seinfeld,Touched by an Angel--and make your judgment from that."