City Officials Gather for Media Violence Summit

Article excerpt

City leaders and other key stakeholders gathered in Indianapolis last Tuesday to discuss the impact of media violence on children and youth and the role cities can play in helping parents protect their children. Hosted by NLC President Bart Peterson, mayor of Indianapolis, the Media Violence Summit brought together local elected officials, media and entertainment industry representatives, academic experts, parent organizations and youth to open a national dialogue that will engage communities across the country.

"In recent years, our communities have witnessed far too many incidents of extreme violence by and against children and youth," said Peterson, who became concerned about media violence after the Columbine High School tragedy. Following that incident, Mayor Peterson signed a city ordinance restricting access to violent arcade games, which was struck down by a federal appeals court. Other localities and states have tried similar approaches and witnessed similar outcomes.

"To begin bringing people together, and to try to find common ground, is a more promising and productive approach than fighting battles in the courts," said Peterson.

The summit coincided with the deadliest shooting attack in U.S. history, in which 33 people were killed at Virginia Tech the previous day.

"I think it would be particularly irresponsible to suggest that there is a message from yesterday that is a dominant lesson for today's conference other than there are a lot of us who continue to be concerned about our violent culture," said Peterson.

The summit was broadcast live on the Web. An archive of the webcast of the summit can be viewed on NLC's website.

Disturbing Trends

Moderator Terence Smith, former PBS media correspondent and senior producer for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, kicked off the summit by introducing Robert Wehling, board chair of Common Sense Media and founder of the Family Friendly Programming Forum.

Wehling described how changing technology has dramatically increased the exposure of young people to violent images. The average American youth spends more than 45 hours per week exposed to media and will witness 40,000 killings and 200,000 violent incidents by the time they turn 18 years old.

"What's new today is the 24-7, on-demand media environment in which kids are making their way through childhood and adolescence," said Wehling. "Is violent media the sole cause of the problems we're dealing with? Of course not. But ... it's got to have a desensitization effect--it's got to be a contributor."

According to Wehling, "We're dealing with a fundamental cultural issue in our society that you in this room--neighborhood by neighborhood, and family by family--have to deal with. Those of you who are elected officials I think need to use your bully pulpit on a day-to-day basis to try to change things."

Media Matters

A diverse panel responded with their perspectives, Savannah, Ga., Mayor Otis Johnson related that young people have always imitated what they see on television, but disputes are now being settled with guns instead of fists. Andrew Warshauer, an Indianapolis high school student, highlighted access to guns and the presence of parental figures as important factors influencing whether youth act out violence they see in the media.

For some young people, the violence in their neighborhoods has reached the point where video games can be viewed as a training tool for survival, according to Sgt. Timothy Knight of the Indianapolis Police Department.

In addition, research shows that exposure to any type of violence, real or virtual, affects children. "If a child is exposed to any behavior repeatedly, that's how they learn," said Jeff McIntyre of the American Psychological Association.

Noting a "national obsession with trying to be shocked," Robby Saldana, a high school senior from Grand Rapids, Mich. …