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Carter, Ford, others ask Hollywood for code on media violence, sex

WASHINGTON (BP)–A diverse group of nearly 60 Americans, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, have made an appeal to the entertainment industry to institute a new code of conduct that will reduce violent and sexual content.
In “An Appeal to Hollywood” released July 21, the group calls for “executives of the media industry — as well as CEOs of companies that advertise in the electronic media — to join with us, and with America’s parents, in a new social compact aimed at renewing our culture and making our media environment more healthy for our society and safer for our children.”
The document, released at a Capitol Hill news conference, says the new code would establish minimum standards for violence, sex and degrading material “below which producers can be expected not to go;” would bring commitments from the industry to reduce the level of violence and to create “good family oriented entertainment;” revive television’s “family hour;” and prohibit the targeting of youth markets with adult-oriented material. It should be modeled on the National Association of Broadcasters code, which TV broadcasters followed for 30 years, the appeal says.
The statement was faxed the day before its release to Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Jack Valenti, Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner and a dozen other entertainment executives. The MPAA declined comment on the appeal, according to Reuters America, Inc.
The public request came in the midst of surveys showing growing concern about the content of the entertainment media and of reports this fall’s new television shows will contain more vulgarity than ever.
The appeal to Hollywood cited a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll that showed 76 percent of adults believe TV, movies and popular music negatively influence children. While 75 percent said they seek to protect their children from such influences, 73 percent say doing so is “nearly impossible,” according to the survey.
Another recent poll, this one by People for Better TV, reported 84 percent of registered voters support an independent TV ratings system, according to a report from the Parents Television Council. Since 1997, the networks have provided their own ratings for violence, sex and objectionable language.
The survey followed a May report by the PTC that showed the TV industry’s rating system has failed to reverse the tide of sex, violence and offensive language in prime time. A comparison of the two-week November sweeps periods from 1996, just before the ratings system was instituted, to 1998 found the combined content of sex, violence and foul language increased by more than 30 percent, the PTC reported.
The New York Times and Reuters reported July 19 and 22, respectively, the Fox Network plans this fall to push the boundaries with new shows featuring more explicit sex and language than has been shown before on broadcast television.
The pilot of Fox’s “Action,” which focuses on the behind-the-scenes world of the movie industry, contains the “first all-out barrage of four-letter words ever unleashed on broadcast television — all of them bleeped out, but easy enough to lip read” and explicit sexual content and dialogue, according to The Times.
“Get Real,” another new Fox series, includes a scene in which “the mom’s only mildly miffed and the dad not at all” when they discover their 17-year-old son has shared his bed with a girl overnight, The Washington Post reported July 22.
In addition to Carter and Ford, others who signed the appeal to the entertainment industry were Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan.; Kent Conrad, D.-N.D.; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas; Joseph Lieberman, D.-Conn.; John McCain, R.-Ariz.; former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo; former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell; religious leaders Bill Bright, Richard John Neuhaus and Jim Wallis; academics Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, William Galston, James Davison Hunter, Elie Wiesel, James Q. Wilson and Alan Wolfe; and entertainment personalities Steve Allen, Naomi Judd, Carol Lawrence and Joan Van Ark.
The text of “An Appeal to Hollywood” is available on the Internet at www.media-appeal.org.
The appeal says the shooting rampage in Littleton, Colo., which left 13 others dead at the hands of two teenage boys who reportedly consumed violent entertainment, is “only the most recent reminder that something is deeply amiss in our media age.”
“Children of all ages are now being exposed to a barrage of images and words that threaten not only to rob them of normal childhood innocence, but also to distort their view of reality and even undermine their character growth,” the document says. “Moreover, there is a growing appreciation of the link between our excessively violent and degrading entertainment culture and the horrifying new crimes we see emerging among” young people.
The appeal also says parents are responsible for supervising their children’s access to television, movies, music, videos, video games and the Internet, but “even the most conscientious parent cries out for help from an industry that too often abdicates its responsibility for its powerful impact on the young.”
The signers “are not advocating censorship or wholesale strictures on artistic creativity” but are asking Hollywood “to take some modest steps of self-restraint,” the document says.
In a statement released with the appeal, Brownback said, “We have come here not to threaten with legislation but to appeal to the corporate conscience of these executives.”
In a prepared release, William Bennett, former secretary of Education and now a codirector of Empower America, said of the appeal in which he was a leader: “So far, virtually every entertainment executive has refused to engage in this debate. We think the [appeal] will help change that. If it doesn’t, then we will stay until it does.”
The television industry implemented an age-based ratings system in January 1997 but added content symbols in October of that year under pressure from Congress. At the start of programs, the cable and broadcast networks, with the exception of NBC, use letters to denote content. The symbols are S for sexual depictions, V for violence, L for foul language and D for suggestive dialogue. Additionally, the system uses TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-M, much like the motion-picture industry uses G, PG, PG-13 and R in its ratings.
Last year, the Parents Television Council released a report showing the ratings system was failing to live up to its purpose. The study of programs during the family hour on prime time showed 65 percent of shows containing foul language failed to carry an L for language and 76 percent with sexual innuendo did not receive a D for dialogue.
Congress has adopted legislation requiring a V-chip be installed in all new televisions. The V-chip will enable parents to block programs from viewing based on the ratings system. All television models 13 inches and larger have to include the V-chip by Jan. 1 of next year, according to rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission.