WASHINGTON -- Staunch opponents of TV violence are criticizing a parental advisory plan offered by the major television networks while television executives are defending it against accusations that it does not resolve the problem.
Lawmakers and activists who have pushed hard in recent months for a dramatic reduction in the level of TV violence, which they contend is directly related to violence in society, said the network labeling plan is not enough.
"It's like having a chemical company paint their smokestack red to say here's where the pollution is being emitted," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., one of at least half a dozen members of Congress who have threatened measures bordering on censorship if the industry fails to police itself.
Adding to the skepticism about the plan's effectiveness was the networks' contention that none of their current series are violent enough to warrant the label, although they expect an occasional TV movie and one new police show on ABC, "NYPD Blue," to carry it.
"Under the guise of 'empowering' parents, the industry is avoiding its own responsibility for the violent content of the entertainment it produces," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "The networks, cable and film industry efforts should be focused on lowering the amount of violence on TV and reducing children's exposure to it."
Executives from NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox defended the plan at a Washington news conference yesterday, however, hailing it as a major move to give parents "timely information about depictions of violence" that will help shield children from the harmful effects of televised mayhem.
They were joined by two leading lawmakers concerned about the psychological impact of violent programming on children -- Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.
In a joint statement, the networks said the parental advisory plan -- which is to be given a two-year test -- adds to "the ongoing commitment of each network to eliminate inappropriate depictions of violence on television."
Beginning with their programming this fall, the networks will label violence-prone shows with an eight-word advisory: "Due to some violent content, parental discretion advised."
Each network will decide for itself when to issue the advisory. It will run at the beginning of the program and during commercial breaks, and also will be included in advertising and promotional material for the program.
Warren Littlefield, president of NBC Entertainment, rejected criticism that the networks could not regulate themselves regarding the amount of violence on TV.
"There was one research group that said our recent 20th anniversary special of "Laugh In" was too violent," he said. "Well, 40 million viewers saw that program and we didn't get one complaint it was too violent."
Mr. Simon, chief sponsor of 1990 legislation that frees industry officials from antitrust sanctions to work out voluntary guidelines by the end of this year, called the parental warning label "a significant step in the direction of assuring that a powerful medium can be a force for good in our society."
Mr. Markey, chairman of a House subcommittee that has conducted hearings on television violence, said the industry's decision to label its most violent shows marked "the dawning of a new era" in which the television industry no longer is challenging findings by psychologists and others that violence-prone programs strongly affect young viewers.
Both said more action is needed.