Guest Commentary: It’s time to dump trash television

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Still another study from still another university has confirmed what most parents understand intuitively: Children raised on a steady diet of violence on TV are in danger of imitating the behavior they see on the screen.
The study from Columbia University, a 17-year effort by Jeffrey Johnson, a psychiatric epidemiologist who studies behavior patterns, found that 14-year-old boys who watched three hours or more of TV a day were about twice as likely as those who watched less than an hour a day to commit a crime by early adulthood.
“It has been shown that viewing media violence leads to a desensitization effect,” Johnson reported. “The more violence that [children] see … the more normal it seems to them.”
I commend Dr. Johnson and Columbia University for bringing these results to public attention, but the principle it illustrates is as old as the Bible. “Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
For more than two decades, TV broadcasters and cable operators have been sowing the seeds of glorified violence and irresponsible sex in the minds of impressionable young people. Even without academic studies, common sense tells us that society is reaping the negative results of what the entertainment industry has planted.
How many senseless acts of mass murder in our schools do we have to suffer before we demand a reduction of violent content of TV programs? How many children will have children or undergo abortions before we get the broadcasters to stop presenting gratuitous sex as if it were normal, fashionable behavior?
The sad fact is that family values are being attacked nightly. This is not a sneak terrorist attack. It is a frontal assault every night in prime time, courtesy of wealthy media conglomerates such as Fox. Last year, the Parents Television Council published a list of the10 worst shows on television in terms of family values. Fox shows were honored with the No. 1, 5 and 7 spots on the list.
Neither embarrassed nor discouraged by this kind of attention, the Fox programming department came back this season on Fox’s FX basic cable channel with “The Shield,” a self-described realistic police drama that sets a new record for violence and vulgarity. “The Shield” features scenes so perverted and disgusting that I can’t describe them in a family publication. Yet Fox is showing these scenes in prime time to a national audience.
Fox may be the leader in the attack on family values, but it hardly stands alone. The entire commercial television industry is more interested in ratings than in the values it promotes to America’s children. This industry has demonstrated again and again that it won’t change its behavior voluntarily.
Those of us who want the TV powers to stop their attacks on family values will have to launch a counterattack of our own. Fortunately, I think we have a willing ally in the Federal Communications Commission. And the FCC has a powerful but underutilized weapon in its authority to enforce broadcast decency standards.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell met recently with national family leaders to discuss our concerns about the eroding standards of decency on television and its effect on the nation. Chairman Powell understands and shares our deep concerns about these abuses of the nation’s airwaves.
Here’s hoping that Mr. Powell will convert that concern into an aggressive enforcement of the broadcast decency standards. This would sow the seeds for family-friendly television programming. The entire nation would reap the rewards.