See Some Evil, Hear Some Evil

When does violence catch the eye of the network news shows, and when do they ignore it? 

Apparently the answer depends on how it reflects on Big Media.

Two hearings on Capitol Hill this week addressed the issue of violence.  One was about the injuries suffered by pro football players.  The other was about violence on entertainment television and the studies that show a correlation to aggressive behavior in children.

One hearing featured Mike Ditka telling lawmakers something needed to be done to provide for former football players who'd been disabled while playing the sport because the NFL's disability plan was too full of red tape.  The other hearing featured a video montage of violent images that was so graphic one senator asked that the video be stopped before it was finished.

Guess which story made the network newscasts?

All three broadcast networks covered the NFL hearing and the case for government involvement in the NFL's insurance program. 

Not one broadcast evening news program covered the packed Senate Commerce Committee hearing that dealt with violence on television.  This despite a study released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that 66 percent of parents are so concerned with the inappropriate content of television that they would favor new government regulations.  The study also showed that parents are confused by the television ratings system and few use the V-chip technology present in all modern televisions to block questionable programming.  The ratings system and v-chip are the tools television producers promote when they say parents are responsible for what their children watch.

The TV violence hearing was chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who is planning to re-introduce legislation that would crack down on excessively violent programming.  According to newspaper reports on the hearing, Rockefeller called the TV industry “cowardly” because instead of cleaning up the content on television “we have the industry blaming parents for their lack of oversight of their children's television viewing.” 

Regulating violence on television is a thorny issue, because the definition of what constitutes excessive violence would have to be determined.  Currently the Federal Communications Commission has oversight for “indecent” content on broadcast television, which has to do with foul language and explicit sexual content.  But even that definition is stoking controversy.  The broadcast networks are currently in court suing for the right to air the f-word and s-word without penalty.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Parents Television Council President Tim Winter, cited several PTC studies documenting not only an increase in the amount of violence shown in broadcast prime time television, but also an increase in the graphic nature of the violence.  Another study showed the ratings system on which the V-chip is based is ineffective because the ratings are not uniformly applied and often absent on many television programs.

Other witnesses included Dale Kunkel, an expert on media violence at the University of Arizona, and Jeff McIntyre from the American Psychological Association.  Both discussed the extensive body of studies that shows links between excessive exposure to violence on television and violent behavior in children. 

The only industry witness was Peter Ligouri, the president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company, which broadcasts the very violent series 24.  As expected, Ligouri presented a free speech argument, defended the ratings system and voiced the industry line that parents are the first and best shield against explicit and violent content. He also said that all of the studies done on violence in television didn't prove it CAUSED violent behavior in children, just that there was a link.  

Maybe if media violence experts had brought in some kids and had them beat the living daylights out of each other the story would have made the evening news.

But it didn't. In fact it really didn't make a big news splash at all.  Even though a majority of parents think there is a problem with television content.   Maybe if Mike Ditka had been in the room it would have been a bigger story. 


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.