Satcher Report Links Media Violence to Kids’ Behavior
A report released yesterday by Surgeon General David Satcher shows a "scientific link between graphically violent television programming and increased aggression in children," the Los Angeles Times reports. The report, which reviews research conducted in the past year on youth violence, was commissioned by the White House and lawmakers in the wake of the 1999 "suicide massacre" by two teens at Columbine High School. Satcher's report states that a "substantial body of research now indicates that exposure to media violence increases children's physically and verbally aggressive behavior in the short term." The surgeon general said that although exposure to media reflected a "low-level" long-term effect on youth violence compared with children's access to guns and other vices, "it's still enough that it ought to alert us that we need to be concerned about this." He added, "The science shows that media violence, and this is primarily TV, can in fact in the short term increase aggressive behavior. I don't think that's a desirable thing." The report follows last fall's Federal Trade Commission report that determined Hollywood was marketing violent movies to kids, prompting a "series" of Capitol Hill hearings "criticizing" the industry's marketing practices. Although the FTC report did not lead to any legislation on the issue, some lawmakers said Satcher's latest report "could bolster regulators' legal standing."
The Surgeon General's report "provoked an applause" among parent groups and lawmakers "seeking to curb the use of violence in entertainment," the Times reports. But some in the entertainment industry "dismissed" the findings. John McNamara, executive producer of CBS' prime-time series "The Fugitive," said, "Television was much more violent when I grew up, and I'm a complete pacifist coward," adding that if certain movies have "the effect of making one more violent, why doesn't a 'Seinfeld' episode make one funnier?" Researchers who contributed to the Surgeon General's report warned that the "massive" audiences drawn to films, TV and video games amplify even "small effects" of violent programming. The Times reports that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), "[a]rmed with the report," may introduce legislation "to broaden regulators' authority over studio advertising practices" (Leeds, Los Angeles Times, 1/18). But a
Denver Post editorial questions whether legislation is the answer, stating, "Congress cannot make the entertainment industry improve its act but there is much that parents can do." The editorial adds that the report may "ignite a cultural shift ... that is a necessary prerequisite to an improvement in industry standards." Reflecting on the Surgeon General's influence on tobacco industry practices, the editorial concludes, "it took a lot of years after the surgeon general first linked smoking and cancer for smoking to be seen as a social evil. Only time will tell if the surgeon general's report can have a similar effect on the quality of television programming" (Denver Post, 1/18).