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While Debate on TV Violence Continues, One Verdict Is In

UCLA study reports decline in violence on the networks

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Over the past few years, several distinct groups have emerged in the debate about violence on television. On one side is the TV industry, which has downplayed the violence and argued its right to freedom of expression. On another side are concerned parents and advocacy groups, who have deplored what they've seen on TV. Enter the federal government, which has passed legislation for a V-chip to block out objectionable programs. The Clinton administration has also persuaded the TV networks to rate their programs for objectionable content starting next year.

Amid all this wrangling, a major new study by the Center for Communication Policy at UCLA reports a decline in gratuitous violence on network television (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, UPN, and WB) during the 1995-96 season.

The networks say the study proves what they've been saying all along: They aren't to blame for a surfeit of violence on TV. An NBC statement says the study "debunks myths that have been promoted for political gain" and "confirms what we at NBC have been stating for years - that network programming is not the source of violence on television."

Betsy Weaver, editor of the Boston-based Parent's Paper, acknowledges the networks have a right to pat themselves on the back, but would urge them not to pass out the gold stars just yet. "One year does not a trend make," she says.

Indeed, the study was released one week prior to the debut of what may be this season's creepiest new drama. Mark Honig, executive director for the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council, is extremely concerned about FOX's "Millennium," from "X-Files" creator Chris Carter. Many critics say it contains some of the most graphic content ever seen on network TV. " 'TV Guide' called it the most disturbing, chilling hour on TV ... a 'Silence of the Lambs' for prime time," he says.

The UCLA study, which was commissioned in 1994 by ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC partly in response to public pressure, found only five shows out of 114 that frequently portrayed violence either gratuitously or with glorification: CBS's "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Nash Bridges"; and FOX's "New York Undercover," "Space: Above and Beyond," and "Kindred: the Embraced." (The last two were cancelled.)

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