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TV Violence Rises 41% Over Past 2 Years, Study Shows : Television: Network officials assail findings by the Center for Media and Public Affairs as ‘irresponsible.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite self-proclaimed efforts by the television industry to lessen violence amid threats by federal legislators, TV violence actually increased by 41% over the past two years, according to a study released Friday by a nonprofit research organization.

The findings were immediately attacked by network officials, who called the study “irresponsible” and inconclusive.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs said it counted 2,605 violent scenes during the first Thursday in April this year on 10 broadcast and cable channels, up from 1,846 violent scenes from a similar study done on the same day in 1992.

The center, which conducts scientific studies on how the media treat social and political issues, monitored 18 continuous hours of programming on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, independent WDCA-TV and cable channels MTV, HBO, TBS and USA. Included were news programs, music videos, cartoons, toy commercials and promos for upcoming movies and series, along with prime-time entertainment, which has drawn the most fire from government officials who claim that television violence may be contributing to the rise of violence in society.

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Bob Lichter, director of the Washington-based center, said: “The whole idea of the study was to look at all programming. People are always focusing on prime-time entertainment, and television is much more than that. The point is not to say that this is representative of every day, but that here is what is happening on a typical day.”

Lichter added, “There were increases in violence in every category of program. There were pervasive increases in fiction and nonfiction programs, children’s and adult programs, and in promos. This suggests that this is something that we should be concerned about.”

The study said the average hourly rate of scenes of violence per channel increased from 10 to nearly 15 between 1992 and 1994. Acts of life-threatening violence, such as assaults with deadly weapons, rose 67%, from 751 to 1,252 scenes, while scenes involving gun play climbed 45%, from 362 to 526.

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The largest increase in violence was seen in news programs--209%, the study said. The news that day included coverage of violence in Rwanda, South Africa, the Middle East and Bosnia, while local news shows gave prominence to a shooting in Washington, D.C.

Network officials instantly denounced the study, which will appear in next week’s TV Guide.

“This study is a totally irresponsible approach to the issue of violence on television,” NBC said in a statement. “It is clearly designed to make news, not to make a responsible contribution to the debate.”

Janice Gretemeyer, a spokeswoman for ABC, said: “We have looked at our programming for that day and find it hard to realize how anyone would characterize it as violent. That evening, we ran an episode of the family drama ‘The Byrds of Paradise,’ a repeat of ‘Matlock’ and, on ‘PrimeTime Live,’ a story about twins being switched at birth.”

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Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who has led the government fight in trying to get industry executives to regulate violence before legislators try to impose mandatory restrictions on them, also did not seem too impressed with the center’s study.

“The report is important in terms of keeping a spotlight on TV violence,” said Simon spokesman Robert Shireman. “But it only looks at one day, which may not be a valid approach. It includes the news along with entertainment programming. There may be too much violence on news, but the senator’s focus has been on entertainment programs in prime time. On that score, we have seen some progress.”

The four major commercial networks and the cable industry, under prodding from Congress, have themselves hired outside firms to conduct studies of TV violence over the next three years. Both research efforts are still in the early stages.

Shireman said Simon feels those efforts should continue.

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