Television viewers have freedom of choice

Each individual has the freedom to determine the role television will play in his or her life, according to Bruce L. Christensen, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at BYU.

"You have the agency to choose," he said in a Church News interview. "There isn't anybody on the television side who is controlling your life."Brother Christensen's opinion on television has been formed through years of experience with the medium. Prior to taking his current position at BYU, he was president and chief executive officer of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in Washington, D.C., for nine years.

He has managed KBYU-TV and KBYU-FM as well as KUED-TV and KUED-FM at the University of Utah. He started his career in television in 1965 as a news reporter.

He was recently elected a fellow of the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

"The purpose of the council is to promote quality television and to recognize excellence in production and creative work," Brother Christensen explained.

Following are some of his points on maintaining control over television to make it a positive influence:

"The most important right you have is to turn the television off or turn it to a different channel if and when you see something you don't like. You have to take responsibility for your viewing and you have to take responsibility for your children's viewing if they're young.

"Don't watch! It's a very easy solution.

"And if you're really upset about something you don't like on TV, you can write letters to the FCC and others. Those letters are read and they do have some impact. It's important to register those complaints, but you have to be proactive in that process. You have agency. You have to take responsibility for what goes on.

"Watch with a purpose. Even if that purpose is just to relax. Spend some time thinking about what it is you want to watch. Don't just sit down in front of the television set, turn it on and say, `I'm too tired to look anything up.' You wouldn't go to a movie and walk into the first door that you come to, take a look at the movie, and if you don't like that particular movie get up and move to the next one.

"What you need to do when you watch television is to say, `OK, tonight I would like to be entertained.' Then look at the TV guides. Most people don't look at TV guides. They have substituted the remote control for a sort of run-through to see if something catches their attention.

"And the things most likely to catch attention are the things least likely to be uplifting. It will be something like a chase scene from a movie, or violence, or something that's shocking, or loud music, or something that's frightening. Those things that cause you to pause with your remote control are precisely the wrong things.

"Limit the number of hours per day that you watch. An hour a day is plenty of viewing. Sometimes if you're watching a movie or an opera or something that's a little longer, you can expand to accommodate it. But it isn't good to say, `I'm just going to sit down and turn it on and let it wash over me.' You should set some specific guidelines.

"You have to prioritize other activities. Homework, chores, exercise, and opportunities to interface with family and friends come before watching television. It isn't enough just to limit the number of hours of television; there must be some priority so you do the other things that you want to do.

"Never eat with the TV on. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are not the times to watch television. Those are times to interface with the rest of the family. Television is an intrusion. There isn't anything as important on television as the conversation you would have together as a family.

"Select and build a video library that will meet the needs of your family over time. For small children, there probably aren't a lot of really good programs on television, but there are lots of good videos. And if you can't afford a library, go to the library and check the videos out because little kids will watch repeat programs. Videos like the Disney movies are relatively inexpensive; not much more expensive than picture books used to be years ago.

"My family has all of the videos that I thought were terrific as I was growing up, as well as things that recently the kids have liked. We don't let the kids just go to the video store on their own and pick out anything that they want.

Brother Christensen said there are ways to find good programs on television.

One way is through reading newspapers and other publications. "Most of them carry some evaluation of the programs that are on," he said. "You get some pretty good hints from those folks."

But there are other methods to dig out the best programs, he continued. "Listen to your colleagues and friends."

He said that public television is a good source for good programs, "but you have to be selective. Not everything that's on PBS is ideally suited for family viewing."

Then he returned to his original premise that viewers need to be in control themselves.

"You're in charge," he concluded. "Take responsibility, and you'll have a lot better relationship with your TV set."

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