PERSPECTIVE: How Movie and TV Violence Hits Children; Is There Too Much Violence on Television and Is It Time to Curb It? John Beyer, Director of the Organisation Mediawatch-UK Argues That Media Violence Cannot Be Ignored
Byline: John Beyer
Is there too much violence on television? Is there a connection between the violence shown on television and the increasing violence and aggression in our society? I think there is.
In his most interesting series, Child of our Time, on BBC1, Professor Robert Winston said: "The average British three-year-old is glued to a TV or computer screen for nearly five hours a day and almost half of all three-year-olds have a TV in their bedroom. Suddenly the outside world is coming into these children's lives."
He asked: "So does what they watch influence their behaviour? Most scientists now think that TV can encourage violent tendencies. Experiments show how dangerous seeing the wrong kind of lessons on TV could be on a child's developing idea of how to behave."
Following the release of the brutally and senselessly violent film Natural Born Killers, a BBC Panorama programme in 1995, entitled The Killing Fields, investigated cases in the US where the film had apparently played a role in influencing the commission of crimes similar to those portrayed in the film.
In the course of the Panorama programme a forensic psychiatrist, Dr Susan Bailey, was interviewed.
She said: "In the early 80s I encountered, over a five-year period, 20 youngsters who had murdered. A quarter of that group presented me with descriptions of how they had watched violent and pornographic films in the weeks leading up to their offence of murder - they described very vividly the films they had watched and how that had influenced their final act.
"The director of the film, Oliver Stone, who was also interviewed, said: 'Film is a powerful medium, film is a drug, film is a potential hallucinogen - it goes into your eye, it goes into your brain, it stimulates and its a dangerous thing - it can be a very subversive thing'."
More recently Natural Born Killers was cited by Lord Puttnam when he said that violent films breed bullies. He said: "We cannot afford to remain blind to the impact films and moving images of all kinds have on young people. You really are tinkering around in people's minds, imprinting emotions, messages and ideas which may well influence them for the rest of their lives."
The British Board of Film Classification, in its 1997 Annual Report, wondered "if Hollywood would ever wake up with a conscience about teenagers and the drip-drip effect of films which teach violence, glorify it and celebrate the rewards it brings". Academic researchers, the Board said, analysed both the pleasures of violent entertainment and the dangers. They surveyed the prevalence of screen violence country by country. America has the highest crime rates in the developed world and produces the most violent entertainment. The most popular stars are the macho heroes who use violence and therefore demonstrate and validate its use.
The Economic and Social Research Council published findings in a report last November saying that robbers increasingly carry out vicious attacks for "kicks" and "street cred" to satisfy a desire for violence rather that for any financial gain. …