NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- President Clinton campaigned for civic values in the heart of Tennessee yesterday, endorsing congressional proposals to require television makers to install a computer chip that could automatically screen out programs that broadcasters had coded as violent.
"The question is how can we get beyond telling parents to do something that they physically cannot do for several hours a day unless they literally do want to be a home without a television or monitor their kids in some other way," Mr. Clinton said at a conference in Nashville on the family and the media that was organized by Vice President Al Gore. "This is not censorship, this is parental responsibility."
Mr. Clinton said the prevalence of working parents and latchkey children posed new challenges for encouraging positive television programming without resorting to censorship.
His remarks yesterday represented the strongest sign yet that he would refuse to cede the issue of violence in the media to the Republicans, and represented an effort to distinguish his support for self-restraint from more extreme ideas for regulation in both parties.
In the past, Mr. Clinton has expressed general support of what is called the "V-chip," (for violence) which could scan signals encoded by broadcasters to block violent programs. But his comments yesterday were more extensive and explicit, and White House aides said they were aimed at shaping debate as a new telecommunications regulation bill moves through Congress.
The Senate has passed a version including the chip requirement, though Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, a leading Republican presidential contender, opposed the idea as taking "us one step closer to government control of what we see on television." The House Commerce Committee this year rejected the chip idea, and the overall bill is pending in the House.
Still, Mr. Dole -- in an effort to build support among the Christian right -- recently took on Hollywood, accusing it of producing movies filled with sex and violence and offering "nightmares of depravity."
Mr. Clinton, who has raised similar concerns for months -- including a mention in his State of the Union address in January -- has suggested Republican criticism of media culture is highly selective, and he has refused to cede the moral high ground.
Just four days ago, in a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Clinton called for more civility in public discourse and common life. He decided to come to this conference late last week to stress those themes again, signaling that he viewed the debate over family values as a potent issue in the 1996 campaign.
"Let's at least focus on the violence," Mr. Clinton told the educators, entertainment and advertising executives and politicians gathered for the fourth annual conference on family issues convened by Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper, who crusaded a decade ago against violent and explicit rock lyrics.
"I see no alternative to solving this problem than to reduce the aggregate amount of violence to which these children are subject," Mr. Clinton said. "And we're going to have to have some help from the media to get that done."
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore sat beside each other on swiveling stools on the stage of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, moderating the town hall discussion as they did so many times in the 1992 campaign. Other participants were arrayed around them on overstuffed sofas set at angles on the stage.
The V-chip measure passed by the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, would require television manufacturers to install an electronic chip that would recognize a special signal that broadcasters would have to transmit identifying violent programs.
The bill provides that the television industry should devise a voluntary system for determining what constitutes such violence, or, failing that, the president would appoint a board of experts to devise standards.
Several speakers at the conference, including Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Industry Association of America, the trade group that rates movies, spoke out against the dangers of censorship.
Ever since the V-chip was proposed, the major television networks have been skeptical, saying that it could cost them viewers and frighten away advertisers.
Major cable operators, on the other hand, have seemed more receptive, arguing that greater viewer control over the television set is inevitable as broadcasters offer a broader range of pay-per-view programs and interactive services.