Five of the 10 corporate giants accused of sponsoring the most violent shows on television have promised the American Medical Association to cut back on their participation in such programming, AMA officials reported yesterday.
The five are General Motors' Chevrolet Division, Sears Roebuck, Eastman Kodak, Schlitz Brewing Co. and General Foods.
The companies were responding to an AMA campaign started a year ago after the nation's largest medical group formally declared such violence a "risk factor" that threatens the health of young Americans and "indeed our future society."
AMA officials said the response could turn out to be a "victory" for the several groups attempting to curb the frequency of murders, shootings, beatings and similar behavior on TV.
The effect of such cutbacks will not be known until the new programs of the 1977-78 season can be monitored. The 1976-77 season has been the most violent on record, according to a "violence index" compiled by Prof. George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.
"I think we can be a little encouraged now about the future," Dr. Robert Stubblefield, child pyschiatrist and consultant to the AMA Department of Mental Health, said in an interview.
The five corporations were listed among firms said to regularly sponsor the 10 most violent programs. The list was prepared by the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, a watchdog group headed by former Federal Communications Commission member Nicholas Johnson. The NCCB received a $25,000 grant from the AMA to study television violence.
American Motors, a firm on the "most violent" list, told the AMA it plans no change in its sponsorship policies, officials said. American Home Products, the makers of Anacin, is also on the NCCB list. It had no reply to a letter sent by the AMA.
Procter & Gamble, an AMA spokesman said, "Came in, and we had discussions with them, but we didn't get a clear indication that they would change their corporate policy."
Burger King Corp. and Frito Lay, the potato chip-maker, have told the AMA they will review their programming policies, but so far have reported no decisions.
Greyhound Bus Lines, though not on that list, has also said it will act to curb violence on programs it sponsors, and J. Walter Thompson advertising agency has advised all its clients to examine their TV policies.
The response to the AMA effort was summed up by Frank Campion, AMA public relations director: Emanuel Steindler, director of the AMA mental health department, and Sue Ellen Muldoon of Campion's staff.
An AMA plea to the firms -- a letter written by AMA president Dr. Richard Palmer of Alexandria -- was followed by many meetings with some of the companies.
"Some of them said, "We just buy a certain amount of time, and the networks decide where our commercials will go'," Campion reported. "But others, like General Foods, say they do have guidelines or standards. They get screenings of the shows, and they usually know very well what they're buying."
The cooperative firms all told the AMA they were changing their sponsorship guidelines.
The AMA campaign was inspired in part by a 1975 article in the AMA's medical journal by Dr. Michael B. Rothenberg of the University of Washington. Rothenberg said doctors were seeing an increase in aggressive violence in the young, and he blamed TV violence in part.
He said the average youngster would see 18,000 TV murders by the time he graduated from high school, and he called the situation "a national scandal.
He urged the AMA to identify the "most notorious" programs, so doctors could post lists of them in their offices.
Then a year ago the California Medical Association delegation to the AMA offered a resolution urging doctors, their families and patients to boycott both offending programs and their sponsors' products.
Dr. Stubblefield, medical director of the Silver Hill Foundation of New Canaan, Conn., advised against boycotting. "I thought it was naive to believe that could work," he said. "As a scientist, I thought it would be better to get the subject into the public forum, and in time -- if there were agreement that TV violence is indeed harmful -- this would work."
Some of the other groups campaigning against TV violence, such as the National Parent-Teachers Association, have said they have not yet ruled out a boycott.
The AMA House of Delegates,however, voted to commit the association "to remedial action in concert with industry, government and other interested parties."
Palmer's letter to the "most violent" 10 followed, and AMA efforts, said Steindler, will continue.
Stubblefield chaired a forum here yesterday sponsored by the AMA and its auxiliary.
"A large part of our emphasis now is on encouraging various kinds of positive TV programming, not just opposing," he reported.
"We don't say all violence should be eliminated from TV. That wouldn't be realistic either. There is violence in life. War is one form. Crime is another.
"We do think the violence on TV can be greatly moderated."