The age-based TV program rating system unveiled last fall as a guide toprime time TV offers little help to parents who want to protect their childrenfrom television violence or alcohol-saturated programming, according to arecently completed study of the fall 1997 TV season by George Gerbner, BellAtlantic Professor of Telecommunications at Temple University.
With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expected to announceits assessment of the ratings system at a hearing on Thursday, March 12, inWashington, the findings of the study raise questions about the ratings'effectiveness. The study reveals little difference in the number of violentaction scenes per hour between the shows rated TV-G (suitable for all ages) andthose with either a TV-PG (may be unsuitable for younger children) or TV-14rating (unsuitable for children under 14).
In fact, TV-G-rated programs contained only one-third fewer violentscenes than shows rated TV-14, the highest age category.
The following table indicates the average number of violent actionscenes per hour during 50.5 hours of prime time dramatic programming, accordingto the age-graded ratings:
|Violent Scenes Per Hour||2.4||4.1||3.6|
The content labels which were also introduced to further differentiateprogramming content have proven somewhat more helpful, Gerbner's study reports.In response to lobbying by citizen action groups, ABC, CBS and Fox adopted thefollowing content labeling system:
* D - Adult themes * L - Language * S - Sex * V - Violence * No label (the program has none of the above)
Prime time dramatic programming with a "V" content warning was found tobe over three times more violent--presenting violence once every 11minutes--compared to shows with no content warning label, which containedviolent scenes every 38 minutes.
The average number of violent action scenes per hour during 50.5 hoursof prime time dramatic programming, according to content label is as follows:
|Content Related Rating||*No label||DLS||V|
|Violent Scenes Per Hour||1.6||2.4||5.3|
Depictions of alcohol use during prime time are more likely to be coupled withprograms marked by adult themes, adult language and sexual situations than withviolence.
"Alcohol is generally depicted in prime time dramatic programmingas satisfying and risk-free with no adverse health effects," notes Gerbner. "Itis relatively rarely linked to violence, despite the fact that in real life,there is a strong correlation between alcohol and both adverse health affectsand violent behavior."
The table below shows the average number of alcohol scenes per hourduring 50.5 hours of prime time dramatic programming according to the two ratingsystems:
|Alcohol Scenes Per Hour||2.5||3.4||4.4|
|Content-Related Rating||No label||DLS||V|
|Alcohol Scenes per Hour||3.3||5.9||2.9|
It is not popularity that drives the violence-saturated programming,according to Gerbner. "While that's what we're led to believe, in fact violencedepresses ratings.
"What's really behind TV violence is its global marketability. As TVproducers find it increasingly difficult to break even at home, they arereaching for the global market. Violence is a dramatic ingredient that needs notranslation. It's image-driven and says 'action' in any language."
"Mindless TV violence and risk-free alcohol are not expressions ofartistic freedom or of reality," says Gerbner. "On the contrary, they aremarketing formula imposed on program creators and foisted on the children of theworld. Citizens own the airways. We should demand that it be free and fair,and not just 'rated.'"
Gerbner's study was conducted in conjunction with the CulturalIndicators Research Project, a data bank and research base that investigates therelationship of long-term exposure to recurrent elements in television andviewer conceptions about the world. The Project periodically publishes aViolence Profile, and a Diversity Index comparing the cast of prime-timedramatic characters to the actual demographics of the American population.
For more information or to reach Professor Gerbner, call Harriet K.Goodheart, director, at Temple's News Bureau, 215-204-7476.
The above story is based on materials provided by Temple University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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