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3 minute read
Ginia Bellafante, with Bureau Reports

IS THE REST OF THE WORLD AS CONCERNED about sex and violence on TV as America? Channel surf elsewhere and U.S. television begins to seem as though it were run by so many Roman Catholic schoolgirls. In Japan–where TV programming is virtually unregulated and concerns about media amorality are scant–prime-time TV is a mixed menu of soft-core porn, bloodletting drama and violent animation. Log some viewing time in Brazil, and you will find erotic soaps and specials featuring naked women dancing the samba in heels and sparkling body paint. This kind of spectacle could just as easily turn up on European TV, where nudity, sex and tastelessness are also unavoidable. Consider The Word, a lewd late-night variety show that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 for five years and once depicted a viewer eating other peoples’ scabs. (Don’t tell Ricki Lake.)

So where do foreign broadcasters draw the line? In Britain, where programming is regulated by the TV industry and the government, shows considered unfriendly to families are prohibited from airing before 10 p.m. Similar rules apply throughout Europe. Definitions of unsuitable fare are so vague, however, that networks often run what turns out to be objectionable programming and pay the penalties later. The Independent Television Commission, one of various monitoring groups in Britain, recently fined MTV Europe $90,000, in part for running explicit sex-themed talk shows in the morning and early evening. In France a government-operated FCC equivalent known as the CSA fined two French networks a total of $2 million in 1989 for airing violent movies during prime-time hours.

Efforts to curtail indecency have been far more efficient in Germany. Starting in 1993 the country’s leading TV manufacturer voluntarily included V chips in new sets. The chip can automatically block out movies that the German film-industry board has deemed unacceptable for young audiences. The chip also filters out all TV shows–including soft-core porn–that individual stations decide are potentially inappropriate. The FSF, a TV industry watchdog group, frequently guides networks in scheduling. In December 1994 it convinced the RTL network to run the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on a weekly rather than daily basis, following public outcries that the show preached combativeness.

In Canada, where concerns about violence on TV have been mounting as clamorously as they have in the U.S., broadcasters air expurgated versions of the Power Rangers. Canada is also experimenting with V-chip technology in several cities. This week a third round of tests will begin in about 400 homes where encoded programming will allow parents to selectively block out material rated on a scale of 0 to 5 for offensiveness. So far the V chip has sparked few objections in Canada. By mid-March the government is expected to decide whether or not to enact it as law.

–By Ginia Bellafante, with bureau reports

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