Measures and bills considered to control what children — and adults — watch on television

Fellow EU member France is trying out strict controls on TV content with bans on violent or pornographic films and is even debating a bill to restrict access to violent or pornographic material out of concern for TV’s effect on the nation’s young. Sex, violence, true confessions and reality shows may be reason enough to stop children from watching television. And indeed, strict control of TV content between the hours of 6.30 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. has been proposed, while legislation to restrict viewers’ ability to watch violent or pornographic material is currently up for debate. In a recent article by the French L’Express magazine, French sociologists and child psychiatrists point out that children absorb more from television than previously thought, including vocabulary. On the other hand, children believe what they see on television – or rather, they seek behavioral models in TV characters rather than from their immediate surroundings. They also prefer series with handsome, shiny heroes to ones that dwell on real issues. Simultaneously, young people are inducted into the world of adult fantasies and obsessions. High viewing figures for the genre lead French pay-TV channels to invest heavily in pornography, while children are exposed to an ever increasing amount of violent images on TV. This year, the French television watchdog, the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel, banned pornographic movies from pay-TV channels, which cost them 30.5 million euros. After pressure, a system was adopted by which viewers could see the forbidden bits through the use of a double code. Because TV films and children’s programs are produced by one and the same channel, the French are seeking the broadcasters’ and viewers’ participation in the committee for the program grading system – until now, the preserve of cinema producers. «Eighty percent of movies are not subject to any restrictions,» said Christian Jacob, minister delegate for the family. Thus, he supports the bill that adopts supplementary, child protection measures to the EU directive, «Television without Borders.» The bill, which will be voted on by the French Parliament before Christmas, empowers the television watchdog «to be alert for scenes of gratuitous violence or pornography, and prevent them from reaching the viewing public.» But legislation must be coupled with parents undertaking their responsibilities – no easy task, given that 23 percent of children in France aged 8-12 years old and 58 percent of children 13-19 years old watch television regularly. Many single mothers admit to being at their wits’ end. Perhaps the new grading system will help.

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