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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 childrenâ€™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 Communicationsâ€™ broadcast code notes â€œViolence, 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.]â€¦and must also be justified in context.â€
One common regulatory practice is to establish time periods or a â€œwatershed hourâ€ 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.
RELATED: The Brutal Truth About TV Violence