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America moved toward family-friendly entertainment in 1996

December 31, 1996
Web posteed at: 6:30 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Paul Vercammen

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The political machine and the entertainment industry joined forces in 1996 -- however reluctantly -- to address growing concerns that the mass media is damaging America's social health.

President Bill Clinton led the charge against vulgarity and violence in the entertainment industry, using the State of the Union address to air his views.


"To the media, you should create movies, CDs and TV shows you'd want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy," Clinton told the nation.

Media critic Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly thinks the president was giving voice to a belief held by most Americans.

"Throughout the country there's this feeling that there's too much media, that it's overwhelming, that people are in over their heads," said Tucker.

With Clinton and Bob Dole putting entertainment in play as a political football during the presidential campaign, the industry came to the table offering compromise.

Controversial solutions

Broadcasters, making noises about balancing entertainment with social responsibility in the rest of their lineups, agreed to provide up to three hours of children's educational programming each week.

Not all social critics were mollified by that solution, however.


"We're not doing a whole lot to educate (children) in schools," said prominent television producer Stephen Cannell. "But, boy, we can give them three hours of educational television and that'll do the trick."

The government-mandated V-chip is another case where the entertainment industry compromised with Washington in an effort to safeguard society from controversial content. By 1998, TVs will be equipped with technology allowing parents to block out programming they deem objectionable.

The V-chip will work in concert with a new ratings guide for television programs that is similar to the Hollywood's system of G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 ratings. The fledgling WB network, a division of CNN's parent Time-Warner, has already implemented the television ratings system.

Ratings under fire

But parents' groups and politicians are concerned because broadcasters will rate themselves. Critics say the new six-level, age-based guide does not provide parents with enough information.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, complains the new system does not "tell you that it's 'V' for violence, or 'S' for sex, or 'L' for language."


Clinton has urged patience, saying the new system can be fine tuned in the future if it fails to deliver more parental control.

Television has not been the only political whipping boy during the past year. The music industry has have been the target of political posturing and moral outrage, too.

William Bennett, secretary of education under President George Bush, railed at MCA and such artists as Snoop Doggy Dog for "peddling filth for profit" and promoting "sleaze." Bennett's public interest group Empower America has been one of the noisiest in the battle against corporate America's willingness to sell almost anything that turns a profit. icon (170K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Losing battle?

Wal Mart

On the other hand, Bennett praised mass-marketer Wal Mart -- which sells 52 million CDs a year -- for pulling records containing offensive lyrics or cover art off its shelves.

But Empower America and sympathetic politicians may be fighting a losing battle.

Television stations in some markets have broken a decades-old voluntary ban on broadcasting advertisements for hard liquor. The cry against the return of liquor advertising on TV has been loud, but it hasn't stopped the ads from appearing.

Media critic Ken Tucker takes a more optimistic point of view on the events of 1996 and the entertainment industry's direction. icon (352K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"I think we see Hollywood responding to the political climate," said Tucker. "I think the movie industry, the music industry, the TV industry, all these places don't want to look at it as if they're against helping parents."


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