Americans feel govt indecency curbs going too far

 MUMBAI: Most Americans say that they are very concerned about the amount of sex and violence in entertainment and want something done about it. However, many worry that government restrictions could go too far.

This information is contained in a Pew poll of 1,505 adults. It was done from 17-21 March 2005 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Americans doubt the effectiveness of government action, and believe that public pressure ­ in the form of complaints and boycotts ­ is a better way of dealing with the problem. They also blame audiences more than the media industry for objectionable material. Significantly, Americans see greater danger in the government's imposing undue restrictions on the entertainment industry, than in the industry producing harmful content (by 48 per cent vs. 41 per cent).

At the same time there is broad public support for several proposals now being considered for curbing indecent material in the media. 75 per cent favour tighter enforcement of government rules on TV content during hours when children are most likely to be watching. Sizable majorities also back other anti-indecency proposals currently before Congress, including steeper fines (69%) and extending network standards for indecency to cable television (60%).

The tug of war in public opinion about government regulation of entertainment reflects political and religious divides about the issue. Americans over the age of 50 register much higher levels of personal concern than do younger adults about different types of TV material, and are more likely to view harmful content as a bigger problem than intrusive government restrictions. By contrast, those under 30 view excessive government restrictions as a far greater danger than harmful content.

Despite these divisions, however, there are a number of points of broad national agreement on issues relating to entertainment and the government's role in reducing offensive content. - Poll respondents feel that parents are primarily to blame when children are exposed to explicit sex or graphic violence. 79 per cent say that inadequate parental supervision ­ rather than inadequate laws ­ is mostly responsible for children being exposed to that sort of offensive material.

There is widely shared concern over what children see and hear from various media, though for the most part these attitudes have remained fairly stable since the late 1990s. Roughly six-in-ten say they are very concerned over what children see or hear on TV (61 per cent), in music lyrics (61 per cent), video games (60 per cent) and movies (56 per cent). An even higher percentage (73 per cent) has expressed a great deal of concern over the internet. 68 per cent believe that children seeing so much sex and violence on TV gives them the wrong idea about what is acceptable in society.

Concerns over media content are changing; Reality TV causes worry: The survey also highlights the changing nature of the public's concerns over media content. Americans these days are troubled by much more than sex and violence ­ in fact, sex and violence do not even top the list of people's personal concerns over TV.

46 per cent say that they are personally bothered a lot by TV programmes showing depictions of illegal drug use, while 38 per centvoice a high level of concern over reality programmes in which real people are tricked or made fun of. And among parents, as many say they worry a great deal over their own children being exposed to illegal drug references as say that about sexual content.

Despite the recent string of controversies over sex and violence in the media, however, the overall image of the entertainment industry has not eroded in recent years. The public continues to have low regard for video games manufacturers. Only 34 per cent have a favorable view of the makers of video games, about the same as in June 1999. Young people stand out as virtually the only demographic group with a positive view of this industry. A majority of those under age 30 (56 per cent) have a favorable view of video games makers, compared with just 15 per cent of those age 50 and older.

TV choices okay, content has gotten worse: Americans are reasonably happy with the choice of what they can see on television, and there has been relatively little change in this sentiment over the past 11 years. Those who have more programming choices via cable or satellite ­ and especially people who subscribe to premium channels ­ are happier with the options available to them. Younger people express greater satisfaction with the choices than do older people.

People who watch top-rated reality television shows or those with sexual or violent content express somewhat greater satisfaction with available choices than do those who do not watch such programmes. On the other hand, people whose preferences tilt toward more wholesome fare are no more satisfied than other viewers.

Despite expressing general satisfaction with the choices available 66 per cent say that entertainment TV shows are worse now than they were five years ago. Just 24 per cent say that entertainment TV has gotten better. This pattern is almost identical to that seen when the question was asked in 1993 and in 1983.

People who think TV is worse today cite a range of concerns. About one-fifth each cite sexual content and violent content. 16 per cent have mentioned the depiction of immoral behaviour and a lack of good values.

17 per cent specifically said they dislike reality television. Comparable numbers of people in 1993 and today said that TV programs lack substance (13% in 2005), had a bad influence on children (11%), or contained too much bad language and swearing (10%).

Among the roughly one-quarter of the public who feel that television has gotten better over the past five years 37 perv cent cited greater choice and diversity as the main reason ­ and those who have cable TV, satellite dishes, or premium channels are even more likely to mention this. Other reasons included greater creativity or better acting (nine per cent), better technology and special effects (nine per cent), greater social relevance (eight per cent compared with 24 per cent who cited this in 1993), and greater educational value (eight per cent).

Divided Over Solutions: The American public is divided in its assessment of the best way to curb violence and sex in the entertainment media. Fewer than a third (32 per cent) think that government regulations and fines are the most effective way to reduce the amount of sex and violence in entertainment. Instead, 37 per cent look to public complaints and boycotts as the most effective remedy, while 23 per cent would rely on the industry to enforce its own rules.

In part, the reluctance to turn to the government may be owing to the widely held opinion that audiences wanting this kind of entertainment, rather than those who produce it, are primarily to blame for excessive sex and violence. Half of those surveyed blame audiences exclusively while another 13 per cent said that they share the blame with producers. Only 34 per cent singled out entertainment producers exclusively.

Younger people, especially younger men, tend to be more skeptical of government regulation. And only 32 per cent of men age 18-49 think that the entertainment industry has transgressed the bounds of protected free speech, whereas two-thirds of the public over 65 think it has. By the same token, over half of men age 18-49 see greater danger in the government imposing undue restrictions compared with only a third of those over 65. Young people, however, are also more likely to put the onus on parents to supervise their children's viewing habits.

By a margin of 48 per cent to 41 per cent the public also sees greater danger from the government's imposing undue restrictions on the entertainment industry than from the industry's producing material harmful to society. That same ambivalence is shown in responses to the question of whether entertainment producers have gone beyond their constitutional rights of free speech (48 per cent agree) or remained within those rights (46 per cent).

And while a substantial majority agrees that there are basic standards of decency that the entertainment media should follow, a sizeable minority worries that no basic set of standards can work because everyone has different views about what's offensive or not.

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