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New ratings may lure kids to more violent TV

A new TV rating system designed to guard children against on-screen violence may actually be luring kids to the most violent shows, researchers warned on Wednesday.

TV ads aimed at discouraging violence don't work very well either, they found. And, despite the recent attention to the effects of TV violence, they found its overall level held steady last year.

The researchers analyzed more than 6,000 TV shows during the past two years, as part of what is believed to be the largest effort to assess TV violence. Their work was paid for by the cable TV industry and overseen by an independent panel.

The programs analyzed were on 23 commercial, public and cable channels between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. from September through May.

Among the study's findings:

+ Children's cartoon programs have high concentrations of violence and pose particular risks for making young children more aggressive.

The researchers found more than 800 high-risk cartoons, including such danger signs as an aggressor who was attractive, violence that seemed justified or violence that went unpunished.

+ TV violence is frequently glamorized and sanitized. More than half of the violent incidents failed to show victims suffering pain.

+ Very few programs feature violence in a way that actually discourages it _ only 4 percent last year.

Violence on TV is not necessarily bad, the researchers noted, citing the movie Schindler's List as an example of a very violent program that carried a powerful anti-violence message. But some violence, they said, can increase aggressiveness, make children less sensitive and promote fear.

Since early this year, broadcasters have been voluntarily rating programs in six age-based categories. But the researchers said such ratings draw kids to problem programs.

Basing the TV ratings on age "runs the risk of making parenting harder by attracting children to the very programs we're trying to shield them from," said Dr. Joanne Cantor, a television ratings expert at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Cantor ran a study in which children were given program and movie descriptions and were asked how much they wanted to see each one. Interest soared when the ratings of shows were changed from "G" to "PG-13" or "R." Kids also were attracted by the warning "parental discretion advised."

Researchers urged broadcast industry executives to change the ratings system and do better jobs of showing negative consequences of violence when they portray it.

They told producers of current anti-violence public service slots to stop using celebrities to tell adolescents not to be violent. It would be better, they said, to show the consequences of violence. Celebrities frequently aren't credible, they said, and the most effective spots are those that show kids in wheelchairs or paying for violence in other ways.