Reno urges senators to act if networks refuse to



WASHINGTON (AP)—Attorney General Janet Reno encouraged senators Wednesday to legislate against TV violence if the television industry doesn’t do more to end dramatized bloodshed.

‘‘Government intervention is neither the best option nor the first we should try,’‘ she said, urging that industry be given a few more months to prove it can change.

‘‘But if significant voluntary steps are not taken soon, government action will be imperative,’‘ she said.

Parental advisories and the industry’s standards for depicting violence are positive, but ‘‘extremely small, itty-bitty steps,’‘ she told members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Entertainment industry executives who appeared before the panel said this season’s lineup is laden with comedy and much less violent than before.

They assured lawmakers that more action is coming, including anti-violence public service announcements and a TV special on alternatives to violence to be broadcast simultaneously by all the networks.

But their arguments didn’t seem to convince committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who has introduced a bill that would restrict violent programming to late-night hours when children would be least likely to see it.

During the hearing, Hollings played a tape of a scene from the CBS situation comedy ‘‘Love and War’‘ that aired Monday.

The show is set in a New York restaurant-bar and this week’s segment opened with a brawl.

Punches and furniture fly, bottles are broken over heads in a highly choreographed sequence reminiscent of bar fights in cowboy dramas of the past.

One of the characters tries to stop the fighting and shouts over the din, ‘‘You all see too much violence on television.’‘

Hollings was not amused.

‘‘That was slapstick,’‘ said Howard Stringer, president of CBS Broadcast Group. ‘‘The producer was satirizing TV violence. The attempt was not to glorify violence, but to make it look ridiculous.’‘

When one of the other panelists quipped, ‘‘Nobody died,’‘ Hollings frowned and said, ‘‘Except the credibility of this panel.’‘

Besides Hollings bill, the Senate is considering a measure by Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both North Dakota Democrats, that would have the Federal Communications Commission report quarterly on how much violent programming is broadcast.

Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., has a bill that would require warning labels and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. introduced legislation that would prevent promotional spots for violent shows from airing during children’s programming.

‘‘Too much of today’s programming neither uplifts, nor even reflects our national values and standards,’‘ Reno said. ‘‘Instead of disseminating the best in our culture, television too often panders to our lowest common denominator.’‘

She said her mother wouldn’t even let her watch television as a child because ‘‘she thought it contributed to mind rot.’‘

Children mimic what they see on TV, said Reno. ‘‘What if all television offered more shows with plots that actually repudiated violence? … Why can’t television offer more examples of young people who see the violence and other problems around them and work to make things better?’‘

Reno said TV industry executives have told her they understand the problem of violence in society and realize TV programming ‘‘can and must be part of the solution.’‘

‘‘Why not give them until January?’‘ she suggested.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., who has led efforts to against violent drama, also urged his colleagues to wait until next year before acting on several bills that would regulate television.

‘‘This fall we have less violence on TV than we’ve had in the past, some people would say less than we’ve had in 25 years,’‘ Simon said of the broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

He wants the industry to set up a monitoring panel that would report every six months on the level of violence on television. Some lawmakers believe that simply keeping these kinds of records would discourage such programming.