Programming

Violence Inspires Host of Global Regs

Many countries outside the U.S. impose restrictions or bans on excessively violent content 12/24/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

RELATED: The Brutal Truth About TV Violence

Debates over violence in movies and TV programming are common around the world, but the
political reaction to those controversies has produced widely different regulatory responses.

As in the U.S., programming that can be seen by children tends to be the most heavily
regulated internationally. Free-to-air broadcast TV is also likely to be more tightly controlled
than pay TV channels. But unlike in the U.S., many countries have regulations
regarding excessive violence; impose significant restrictions on the types of advertising
that can appear in children’s programming; and have restrictions or outright bans on
content that is seen to defame particular religious or ethnic groups.

Violence is explicitly regulated by statutes or regulatory codes in many markets, including all
European Union countries, though interpretations and enforcements vary widely. In the U.K.,
the Office of Communications’ broadcast code notes “Violence, its after-effects and descriptions
of violence, whether verbal or physical, must be appropriately limited in programs broadcast
before the watershed [hour of 9 p.m.]…and must also be justified in context.”

One common regulatory practice is to establish time periods or a “watershed hour”
where programming deemed more suitable for adults can be aired. The use of a watershed
hour, which various international regulators have pegged at different times of the
evening, has been adopted in Canada, Brazil, the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia
and many other major territories.

All of these regulations, however, face challenges from the online world, where anyone
can now access almost any type of video anytime over an Internet connection. Whether
this content should be regulated, or even if it can be controlled, is likely to become an
increasingly volatile regulatory issue.

Like in the
U.S., many of the debates over inappropriate broadcast TV content include
controversies over both sex and violence. But unlike in the U.S., many
countries are prone to take a harder line on violent programming than sex.

Countries
in Western Europe tend to have some of toughest rules on children's TV and
children's advertising in an attempt to limit the amount of violent or sexually
explicit material viewed by kids. Yet many of these countries also allow
nudity, erotic material or foul language to be aired by channels late in the
evening. Much of this sexually explicit content could not be aired in any time
slot on U.S. broadcast TV, though it could be played on cable.

In
contrast, sexual content is much more heavily regulated in the Middle East,
North Africa and some South Asian countries, where violence may get less
attention. Many of these countries-along with most Western European territories-also
ban or limit the airing of material deemed offensive to religious groups or
likely to incite ethnic conflict.

In the
U.K., for example, the broadcast code asserts, "religious views...must not be
subject to abusive treatment." But at the same time, programs "must not seek to
promote religious views or beliefs by stealth."

Sensitivities
to religious views also result in some restrictions on what is seen as "occult"
or "paranormal programming." The self-regulating Indian Broadcasting Federation
guidelines, which are not legally binding, call on members not to air programs
with "prolonged, frequent or gratuitous depiction of excessive horror related
to the occult, exorcism, the paranormal, divination or human or animal
sacrifice or other such practice."

The widely
different approaches to regulating appropriate TV content complicates the sales
of U.S. programming to international markets and makes it difficult to assess
the impact that content regulations might have on violence and crime rates within
a country.

Western
European countries, for example, that have strong regulations against violence
in kids programming, also have very low murder and violent crime rates compared
to the U.S. But unsupervised kids in those countries can easily watch violent
programs on pay TV channels at night or play violent video games, making the
impact of those rules difficult to determine.

Other
countries, such as Japan, where extremely violent comic books and games are
available and sexually explicit material is aired on TV, also have crime and
homicide rates that are much lower than the U.S.

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