Wednesday, January 10, 2007

America’s children are being exposed to more dead bodies, fistfights and perverts than ever before, according to an analysis of violence on prime-time television released yesterday by the Parents Television Council.

Violent content from 8 to 11 p.m. on weekdays jumped 75 percent from 1998 to 2006, largely because of popular crime-solving shows and medical dramas such as “Law and Order” and “CSI,” the Los Angeles nonprofit concluded in its report, titled “Dying to Entertain.”

For its second such study, the group pored through 1,187.5 hours of prime-time entertainment programs on major broadcast networks from the first two weeks of the November, February and May sweeps periods during the 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. The analysis excluded movies, news programs and sports events.

The group, which lobbies against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, measured violence by tracking scenes that contained violent elements and counting the frequency of violence within each scene. For example, if a character were to pull out a gun during a fistfight and shoot someone, it would be recorded as two instances of violence.

CBS had the highest percentage of deaths portrayed on each of its shows during prime time. On all the networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN — 54 percent of violent scenes depicted death or implied it.

Guns were involved in 63 percent of violent scenes, and knives featured in 15 percent.

At 309 percent, ABC had the biggest increase in violent content since 1998, which the group examined in its study released in 2002, ballooning from 0.93 instances of violence per hour to 3.80 instances during the 2005-06 season.

Fox had the smallest increase in violent content since 1998, a 12 percent rise to 3.84 instances per hour.

NBC is America’s most violent network, according to the numbers, with 6.79 violent instances each hour. CBS came in second at 5.56.

At the bottom of the list, UPN and the WB — which in the fall combined to form the CW Television Network — had 0.86 and 3.52 violent instances per prime time hour, respectively.

ABC’s short-lived murder drama “Night Stalker” was the most violent program of the 2005-06 season, with 26 instances of violence in one hour. The series, in which an investigative reporter searches for his wife’s killer, was canceled after six episodes.

“Despite the widespread consensus that TV violence is a significant problem, it has not only become more frequent, but more graphic in recent years,” Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, told reporters yesterday at a press conference featuring Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps.

In addition, Mr. Winter noted, violent scenes are becoming increasingly sexual as rapes, sexual predators and characters with fetishes are popping up on prime time dramas.

The report cited an episode of “CSI” that aired on CBS at 9 p.m. in November 2004 in which a transsexual was mutilated and killed.

In another example, an episode of “Law and Order: Trial by Jury” that aired on NBC at 10 p.m. in April 2005 involved a young man who was arrested outside a bar catering to homosexuals and died in the custody of police officers, who raped him with a blunt instrument.

“There is an absolute, objective consensus” that children exposed to violence on television are more likely to use violence to solve their problems and become desensitized to its consequences, said Jeff McIntyre, legislative and federal affairs officer at the American Psychological Association.

Mr. Winter said the V-chip — an electronic chip that allows parents to block TV programming they deem unsuitable for children — is not an effective tool to block violent content, and called on advertisers, broadcast affiliates and Congress to help reduce such programming.

“We’re not calling for a ban on anything,” he said, adding that even if most children are in bed by 10 p.m., increased violence in that time slot puts pressure on the 9 and 8 p.m. slots as well.

In addition, Mr. Winter criticized instances in which promotions for violent, late-night shows are shown earlier in the day, and when popular syndicated programs that may not be appropriate for children air in the daytime.

“If broadcasters do not step up to the plate and self-police, I don’t think any of us should be surprised if Congress decides to step in,” warned Mr. Copps. He said the Federal Communications Commission should “tee up some options” for lawmakers to consider but did not give a specific proposal.

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