The National PTA is about to go into the vigilante business.
I know of no other way to describe the reaction I had when a PTA press release recently crossed my desk with the headline: "PTA PUTS NETWORK ON 'PROBATION PERIOD TO REDUCE TV VIOLENCE."
In that marvelous way that the PTA has of taking up the induction of guilt where the schools leave off, the press release said: "The National PTA is giving the networks notice that it means business when it concerns TV violence! On July 1, 1977, the PTA will launch its First Action Plan, the next step in its project to effect a reduction in TV violence, and an improvement in the overall quality of programming."
If, after this six-month probation period - with not time out for graham crackers and milk - the networks have not satisfied the demands of the PTA "for less TV gore and more diversity and quality in shows," the PTA will consider alternative courses of action, such as boycotts of advertisers, programs and local stations; selected test cases of petition to deny licensing; and civil litigation."
I will leave it to the lawyers to determine whether such action might constitute restraint of trade. My an [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] and quality in show," the PTA will against the National PTA, the AMA and every other group in this country which, in their innocence, are really asking for the government to regulate the content of television.
It has always been my impression that those who are engaged in the full-time practice of virtue are usually autocrats at heart. And if they can not convince the rest of us of the folly of our ways, they usually find ways to get the government to do it.
Just ponder the implication of the following lines from "The Challenge Before Us: The National PTA's Action Plan For Television":
"The broadcaster (licensee) has the responsibility to broadcast programs which are in the public interest and which are not injurious to viewers, including children and youth. The burden of proof that program content is not injurious lies with the broadcaster, not the public.
"The Federal Communications Commission has the responsibility to see that only those stations which exhibit shows that are in the public interest and non-injurious to children and youth, and to other demographich populations, be licensed.
"The federal government should, through its various agencies, or through grants to state governments, assume responsibility for:
"A conducting research studies on the specific effects of television on the populace and the various demographic groups in our society, and
b. assisting local districts in developing new curricula which would give youth a critical appreciation of television."
I am at a loss to understand why the National PTA is so modest in its aspirations. Why stop at television? Why not grant six-month probationary periods to the movies, to newspapers, magazines, books? Why limit these activities to the scale of a cottage industry, when the possibilities of moral surveillance hold the enticement of conglomerate proportions?
In a recent speech about external censorship to the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, ABC Television president Frederick S. Pierce called a spade a bloody shovel when he said: "What is at issue is not self regulation by ourselves, by the broadcasting industry itself, but demand for government regulation of program content."
I go beyond Pierce. What groups like the National PTA are really after is government regulation with perdiem consultant roles for large numbers of cultural vigilantes who really would like to be running networks and local stations themselves.
The best thing the National PTA could do is get out of the television vigilante business and join with educators in trying to produce students, who, when they leave high school, are capable of writing one simple declarative English sentence.
PTA members are not meant to be censors. That is a role that historically the state seeks to assign to itself. It needs no help from private citizens.