Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Rapeutationists and DIRA zombies are preconditioned for violent behavior by cinema and video game violence.

Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:52 pm

Children and Media Violence: Yearbook From the UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen
Editors: Ulla Carlsson and Cecilia von Feilitzen
© 1998 Editorial matter and selections, the editors; articles, individual contributors
Cover by Roger Palmqvist





Table of Contents:

Preface 1, by Henrikas Yushkiavitshus
• Preface 2, by Nils Gunnar Nilsson
Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas
o The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Three Articles Concerning the Media
o Children and Harmful Influences from the Media: The Significance of the UN Convention, by Thomas Hammarberg
o The Child and the Media: A Report From the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, by Thomas Hammarberg
o Youth and Communication, by Carlos A. Arnaldo & Asa Finnstrom
Children and Violence on the Screen - Research Articles
o Introduction, by Cecilia von Feilitzen
o Children and Television Violence in the United States, by Ellen Wartella, Adriana Olivarez & Nancy Jennings
o The Nature and Context of Violence on American Television, by Barbara J. Wilson, Dale Kunkel, Dan Linz, W. James Potter, Ed Donnerstein, Stacy L. Smith, Eva Blumenthal, Mike Berry & Joel Federman
o A Review of Research on Media Violence in Japan, by Sachiko Imaizumi Kodaira
o Children, Media and Aggression: Current Research in Australia and New Zealand, by Kevin Durkin & Jason Low
o Fighting Against Television Violence: An Israeli Case Study, by Dafna Lemish
o What Do We Know About European Research on Violence in the Media?, by Olga Linne
o Why Do We Watch Television Violence?: Argentine Field Research, by Tatiana Merlo-Flores
o The UNESCO Global Study on Media Violence: Report Presented to the Director General of UNESCO, by Jo Groebel
Children's Media Situation - Research Articles
o Children's Voice in the Media: A Study of Children's Television Programmes in Asia, by Anura Goonasekera
o Media Influence and Chinese Urban Children's Ethics Development, by Sun Yunxiao
o Children and Electronic Media: An Australian Perspective, by Stephen Nugent
o An Overview of Children's Broadcasting in South Africa, by Nadia Bulbulia
o Children and the Media in Flanders: A Brief Overview, by Keith Roe
Media in the World
o The Global Audio-Visual Media Landscape, by Robert Lamb
o Statistics
 Television and Video
 Children's & Youth's Television Programmes
 Cinema Screens
 Personal Computers and Internet Users
 Telephone Main Lines and Internet Host Computers
 Interactive Entertainment Software Retail Sales Value
 Radio Broadcast Stations and Radio Possessions
 Book Titles Published
 International Entertainment Companies (Top 50)
Children in the World
o Statistics
 Children in Different Regions
 Demographic Indicators
 Education
 Working Children
Children's Participation in the Media - Some Examples
o UNICEF Media Activities for Children
o Children's Express, UK/USA
o Participatory Techniques in Nepal
o Implementation of the UN CRC and the Role of Radio
o Radio Gune-Yi, Senegal
o Radio to Reach Young People in Denmark
o French Pupils Produce Radio Programmes
o Introducing Children to Journalism and Media, Argentina
o A Pedagogical Kit for Learning About Television, Brazil
International and Regional Declarations and Resolutions - Children and Media
o Bratislava Resolution
o The Children's Television Charter
o The SADC Children's Broadcasting Charter
o Asian Declaration on Child Rights and the Media
o Africa Charter on Children's Broadcasting
Regulations and Measures
o Regulations and Measures Concerning Visual Media and Child Protection: An Overview of Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, by Titti Forsslund
o The Children's Television Charter: Assessing the Feasibility of Global Consensus for Television Policy, by Joanne M. Lisosky
Bibliography - Children and Media Violence Research: A selection (1970-)
Authors of the Research Articles


Be All You Can Kill, by Tara Carreon
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:54 pm


Children and young people make up a great part of the population in most parts of the world. Whereas the number of young people in the wealthy countries of the world today will decline in the coming decade, the number of young people in developing countries is steadily increasing. In these countries young people will make up half the population in the year 2000. What kind of society will these children grow up in?

We live in an era of profound and rapid social change -- on local, national and international levels. Problems and conflicts of a similar nature are a distressing common denominator in virtually every nation in the world: unemployment, widening income gaps, poverty, pollution, ethnic conflict, inequality of the sexes, and last, but not least, expanding information gaps. All these factors affect children's living conditions and prospects.

A new political and economic world order has become reality during the 1990s. With it has come a new media order, as well. 'Globalization' is a key feature. A far-reaching restructuring of markets around the world has erased or perforated national frontiers in a number of respects. Media of mass communication have been affected greatly; technological advances and deregulation of the telecommunications sector are two factors which have contributed to the globalization of media. Information flows meet ever fewer hindrances. In the new order people all over the world can be reached by sounds and pictures from distant parts of the globe. At the same time, products of mass culture distributed by a few large media corporations, headquartered mainly in the USA, Europe and Japan, reach ever larger audiences in more and more parts of the world. What consequences can we expect the actions of these few global actors to have for cultural identities in communities around the world?

Media content raises important questions. Violence and pornography make strong impressions, and there is considerable concern among parents, teachers and public authorities about the influence violent content may exert on young people's minds. Many discern a relationship between the rising level of violence and crime in everyday life, particularly violence committed by children, and the scenes of violence shown on television and video and simulated acts of violence in video and computer games.

Legislation and voluntary regulation with the intent of setting limits are being discussed in many countries today. Efforts are being made to open channels of dialogue between authorities, the media, and the general public with a view to reaching some form of consensus around basic principles. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, provides an international framework in its Article 17, which relates to the media. The Article states the right of children to information and access to sources, and it speaks of the need to "encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being". Today, voices in various quarters are urging measures to follow up on this principle, letting national experience form a basis for policy discussion in international arenas. Ideas along these lines are, for example, expressed in Our Creative Diversity, a report from the World Commission for Culture and Development (UN, UNESCO] 1995).

Documents from UNESCO, UNICEF and numerous international conferences on children and the media stress the need for a better understanding of children and mediated violence and point to effective dissemination of existing knowledge as a means toward this end. Better knowledge, it is hoped, will help us avoid stereotypes and simplistic models. On a global basis, a good amount of scientific research on the subject has been done.

Thus, it is not surprising that the idea of establishing an international clearinghouse on the subject of children and media violence was raised on several occasions in the 1990s. The idea received special attention at an international conference on the rights of the child held in Lund, Sweden, in September 1995. The conference was arranged by the Swedish Commission for UNESCO in cooperation with the Swedish Committee for UNICEF. The subject was of particular interest to the Swedish Government. In 1996, Nordicom -- the Nordic Information Center for Media and Communication Research -- was asked to establish a Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

In January 1997, Nordicom began setting up the Clearinghouse, which is financed jointly by the Swedish Government and UNESCO. The purpose of the Clearinghouse is to contribute to and effectivize knowledge on children, young people and media violence, seen in the perspective of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our prime task is to make new knowledge and data known to interested parties all over the world. Knowledge is prerequisite to both fruitful research and constructive policy and practice in an age when the economic and cultural importance of the media already looms large and continues to grow day by day.

The object of the Clearinghouse is thus threefold: to attract attention to the question of violence on the screen and its role in the lives of children and young people, to stimulate initiatives and activities to combat gratuitous violence, and to help provide a better basis for policy in the field.

Toward these ends, the UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen informs various groups of users -- researchers, policy-makers, media professionals, teachers, voluntary organizations and interested individuals -- about

• research findings concerning children, young people and media violence,
• ongoing research on children and media violence,
• children's access to mass media and their media use,
• training and courses of study on children and the media,
• positive alternatives to media violence, and
• measures and activities which aim to limit gratuitous violence in the media.

The Clearinghouse collates and documents studies of violent representations in the media, especially televised fiction, in television news and current events programming, in feature films, in video and computer games, as well as in images and texts available via Internet, etc., and other telematic media. The Clearinghouse also documents measures taken to reduce the amount of detrimental violence in the media as well as instances of affirmative action which show positive alternatives to media violence.

This international Clearinghouse is user-oriented, which means that our services are offered in response to demand and are adapted to the needs of our clients. The Clearinghouse should have the character of a 'network central'. Essential to the work of the Clearinghouse is the establishment of an international network with regional hubs around the world.

Three issues of the Clearinghouse Newsletter have been published during 1997. In November 1997, we have more than 1,700 subscribers worldwide. The Newsletter offers news briefs, specialized bibliographies, notices of new publications, abstracts of current research, regional overviews, information about seminars, courses and conferences, etc.

It gives us great pleasure to be able to present this volume, our first Yearbook. It is in two parts, a thematic, discursive section followed by a documentary, descriptive section.

The thematic focus of this first Yearbook rests on research concerning the influences of children's exposure to violence on television. Articles discuss findings on children and televised violence resulting from research undertaken in different parts of the world. We are indeed grateful that so many scholars of international stature have been willing to contribute to the volume. A number of shorter articles describe the media landscape as it relates to children in a variety of countries. The documentary section presents statistics on children and the media, international declarations and resolutions, information about non-governmental organisations, and a selected bibliography.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank all the scholars and experts who so generously have contributed to the Yearbook and express my appreciation of Dr. Cecilia von Feilitzen, Scientific Coordinator of the Clearinghouse, who edited the book. Thanks also to Pia Hepsever for her technical assistance, which ranged from database and Internet searches to the final 'mise-en-page'. It has been a pleasure working together.

Last, but certainly not least, I should like to thank UNESCO for the financial support which has made this Yearbook possible.

It is our hope that the volume will be useful to a wide range of readers, that it will provide new insights and knowledge, inform policy, stimulate further research, and orient readers to policies and activities that can inspire new initiatives.

Goteborg in February 1998
Ulla Carlsson
Director, Nordicom
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:56 pm

Preface by the Assistant Director-General for Communication, Information and Informatics, UNESCO

Children, Media and Violence


The gains of modern television are at first sight most satisfactory. Films and entertainment programs may be received at the click of a button from all over the world at any time of day. However, often lurking behind the general approval in the face of progress made are deep concerns about the too easy access of young people, especially very young children, to programs portraying gratuitous violence, sex and pornography. The temptation to control in some way this mediatized onslaught, which is not limited to television programs, but readily available in electronic games, cinema films, and audio-visual materials available on the Internet, is very strong.

The critical question here is how to reconcile the precious and fundamental freedom of expression, as set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as more relevantly put in Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the ways to combat mediatized violence and sex. Article 13 states:

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice ...

The virtual reality of television and its concomitant problems is not the exclusive domain of the industrialized world. Most capital cities and major urban areas of the developing world are on a par with North America and Europe in terms of television access and viewing. However many societies in the developing countries may not yet have reached such advanced stages of modernization. In this case, what young people are watching on television may not yet have been entirely or willingly absorbed by their parents whose own upbringing was without television or at least with far less television, and who were brought up according to strict codes of moral behavior.

What then can be done with regard to violence in the media and children's rights? In almost all fora, UNESCO has encouraged self-discipline and self-regulation of the media. UNESCO has also promoted the essential role of public service broadcasters to resist commercial pressures in the determination of media programming; and to ensure the maintenance of proper social and artistic standards. In the Catalan region, a women's association wanted to protest against the showing of lascivious images of women. To do so, they organized a region-wide boycott of the products advertised during such shows, until the television station finally relented and changed the programming. Solutions cannot however come only from the industry or from organized civic groups. Solutions must also come from the family, since it is the family influence that will prevail, or fail, in the long run, and not television. There is the as yet little used power of the audience. People in their own homes can control the events in their own living rooms. They can indeed turn off the TV!

At a time when violence on the screen is attracting increasingly widespread criticism throughout the world, it is important that social and educational institutions around the world join hands in a cooperative effort to understand more deeply why violence creeps into our television sets at home and into the cinemas we frequent weekly or monthly. It is also important that they seek ways to tap positively the advantages of television and the new information technologies so that all can have better access to educational and social opportunities, so that on an equal basis all can benefit from the intellectual resources made available.

The International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen at the Goteborg University is a concrete way of 'joining hands'. And many have already 'joined hands' with this initiative. They have done this by contributing their research papers and publications and by supporting the intellectual work of the Clearinghouse.

If we know better what the problem is, and how it is rooted in society and culture, and if we can know this with greater certainty through empirical research, then we can move ahead in seeking the ways to solve the problems that the new audiovisual technologies will confront us with. That is why this International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen has an important role to fulfill in the new global age. It is both our depth probe and our compass point.

Preface by the Representative of Sweden at the Executive Board of UNESCO

Children Deserve Quality


Two newspaper reports from last fall refuse to fade away.

One is from The Observer (26 Oct 97), which tells about a study made in a school in a middle class area of Glasgow. Researchers from the Glasgow Media Group have conducted interviews and discussions with ten twelve-year-old youngsters in one class, where three of them had seen Pulp Fiction once, five between two and five times and two claimed they had seen the film "10 or 11 times".

The children were shown four stills from the movie -- two were from the scene where Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel Jackson) shoot Bret in his flat, and two stills from the sequence where Vincent accidentally kills Marvin. They were then asked to write down what they remembered of the script in these parts.

What the researchers found was that these kids remembered the dialogue very accurate, word by word more or less. The Observer shows part of the actual script side by side with what one of the children remembered, and the difference is very small, indeed. Richard Brooks, media and culture editor of The Observer and the author of the article, continues:

The youngsters regarded Vincent, in particular, and Jules as the 'coolest' characters. They commented on their ability to be in control -- even though they lose control by the end of the film -- their stylish clothes, the way they talk and their confidence. As one puts it: 'Vincent was cool because he's not scared. He can go around shooting people without being worried

Greg Philo, author of the report, is cited in the article: "Pulp Fiction presents money, power and style as what social life is about. Its values are intensely attractive to many children."

According to Andrea Millwood-Hargrave, research director of the Broadcasting Standards Council, Pulp Fiction is currently the most frequently cited cult film in Britain. A study has found that 42 per cent of interviewed 10-to-16-year-olds had seen it.

As a result of this status as a cult film, the John Travolta-phrase "Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face" has become a catchphrase among kids -- like Clint Eastwood's "Make my day".

Just think of it: "Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face" -- as a message telling that you are cool. Not scared. You, too.

The other report was published by The Independent (10 Oct 97) under the headline: So many cartoons on TV it's not funny. It reveals that animation now is the dominant type of children's programme on television in Britain, squeezing out traditional dramas and factual programmes. It now accounts for one-third of all children's programmes, compared with 25 per cent five years ago and just 10 per cent in 1981.

Michael Forte, Carlton Television's head of children's programmes, told a meeting of the lobby group Voice of the Listener and Viewer that the increase in animation is due to the "blanket bombing" of British television by American broadcasters. "It is the broadcasting equivalent of plutonium dumping."

A result of this massive "bombing" is that kids, asked about the emergency services telephone number, give the American one, 911, instead of their own, 999.

Anna Home, the highly respected head of BBC Children's Television, who retired last fall, gives her view in an article a few days later in the same newspaper (Oct 12), where she describes the new very competitive scene for children's television, with new American dominated channels like Nikelodeon, the Cartoon Network and Fox Kids. "At best", she concludes, "animation is an art form, but at worst it is crude and simplistic." And she goes on:

There are armies of super-heroes indistinguishable from each other, most of them exceedingly politically correct. Many of the series come with moral messages, sometimes literally tacked on to the end so they cannot be missed by regulators and parents. However, there is little real characterisation or complexity of narrative.

And Anna Home summarizes her experiences:

Children are a discerning audience and they deserve quality. Television is one of the most formative and educative influences. It can stimulate creativity, raise awareness and encourage participation. Children want to be active, and they respond to television. They write stories, paint pictures, send e-mail and send money for good causes. Of course, children want to relax and be entertained, but they do nor want, nor do they deserve, a non-stop diet of action, adventure and noise. That is the kind of cultural climate which leads to 'dumbing down'.

These are words from a person who knows.

The cheapest trick in entertainment is to play on fear. That's probably one of the reasons why violence is the most frequently used entertainment tool. Just check the morning cartoons or the evening "dramas" on television in any part of the world. In Swedish we even have a special word for violence as entertainment: underhallningsvald. A pretty disgusting word, but at the same time quite revealing.

The tragedy is that even children's television is more and more looked upon as a market, paid for and dominated by advertisers, instead of being the golden opportunity to reach out to children, stimulate them, inform them, meet their enormous capacity for creativity and empathy. Instead of expanding resources for this kind of programmes, the funds are shrinking. BBC children's programming budget, for instance, has fallen in recent years, according to Anna Home. And cheap animations are filling the screens.

Two newspaper reports, among many, with a similar message: kids are vulnerable. Kids deserve quality. And the media industry don't care. As an industry, it is looking for the bottom line. The profit.

Why shall twelve-year-olds in Glasgow -- and all over the world -- remember script lines like Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face -- and use them as a catchphrase?

Oliver Stone, who knows a lot about American media, told recently an audience of students at the Syracuse University: "They (American media) own you and your minds! You have to wake up and realise this!"

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should -- in this year of celebration of Human Rights -- be revisited and reinterpreted by parents, politicians, teachers, media producers and owners. Among other things the Convention tells us that children have the right to take part, being informed -- and not being invaded by words and images like Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.

That's why some media professionals met for discussions about the violence on the screen, which led to the international conference in Lund, Sweden, in September 1995, where these two elements were connected: Violence on the Screen and the Rights of the Child.

One very concrete outcome of this conference is the yearbook you arc just reading, the first from The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

More and more people -- parents, politicians, media professionals -- are concerned about the effects of globalized media when it comes to the most vulnerable: the children. That's why the Swedish Government strongly supported the idea of a clearinghouse already from the beginning and is locating a substantial amount of money yearly to its work. We need to know more about recent research in the field, about discussions and activities related to this area in different parts of the world. Knowledge is a prerequisite for action.

This is the urgent role of the Clearinghouse at Nordicom: to provide knowledge, to share information. We are looking forward to many years in that capacity -- and many yearbooks!
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:01 pm

Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Three Articles Concerning the Media

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. Stales Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 13

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Article 17

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:

(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;

(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children's books;

(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.

Children and Harmful Influences from the Media: The Significance of the UN Convention [1]


Times have indeed changed. Only one or two generations ago, very few children had ever seen images of someone being shot, knifed, blown up or raped in front of their bare eyes. Today most children see such violence on the screen every day, often in gruesome detail. It has been estimated that an average American child now reaching the age of eighteen has witnessed some 18,000 simulated murders on television.

The impact of this mass consumption of violent images is still a matter of deep controversy. There have been individual cases of violent crime apparently inspired by particular films. However, no consensus has been established as to the broader and more precise influence of media violence on child viewers' aggression or violent behaviour; research findings so far have been contradictory.

This should come as no surprise. Research on this topic is genuinely complicated. It has to incorporate broader social and cultural factors; including the role of parents or other guardians. The response to the media violence in the community at large also affects the child. The existence of alternative activities and their character is another important aspect. Needless to say, further research is called for on these topics, including on the indirect and long range impact on a generation growing up in a society affected by this type of ever present media culture.

Such research should ideally be child-centred and based on the one international treaty defining the rights of children in today's world: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This in particular as, no doubt, there are powerful economic interests at play in this discussion.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which had been ratified by 191 countries by the end of 1997 (all States with the exception of the United States and Somalia), defines certain principles to guide political decision-making affecting the child. It stipulates that such decisions should be taken with the "best interests of the child" as a primary consideration. The opinions of children themselves should be heard. Not only their survival but also their development should be ensured. Finally, there should be no discrimination between children; each child should be able to enjoy his/her rights.

These principles, with their crucial dimensions of both participation and protection, are reflected in the substantive articles of the Convention. One in particular deals with the child and the media (art. 17):

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:

(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;

(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children's books;

(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.

The discussion

This very article was discussed several times during the decade-long drafting process. The original proposal was part of a Polish draft Convention text and much shorter:

Parents, guardians, State organs and social organizations shall protect the child against any harmful influence that the mass media, and in particular the radio, film, television, printed materials and exhibitions, on account of their contents, may exert on his mental and moral development.

The differences between this first proposal and the final text do indeed reflect the somewhat ideological discussions during the drafting. The Polish wording was seen by several government delegations as too negative towards the media in general, some of them seemed to smell an attitude of censorship. "Western" delegates, in particular, argued for formulations ensuring a free flow of information and that children should be able to take advantage of the diversity of facts and opinions in the media. They also wanted an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that some media were run privately, rather than by the State.

The end result was a clear recognition of the important function of the mass media. The role of the State was to ensure access of children to information and to encourage positive features like dissemination of information which enhance understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin (that is the meaning of the reference to article 29 in this context). Furthermore, the State shall encourage children's books as well as information material adapted to the needs of minority and indigenous children. International co-operation on such matters was encouraged. Finally, on the original issue -- the protection of children against injurious information and media material -- the State should encourage the development of appropriate guidelines.

Let us look closer at the last provision, the one asking for protection. It is not clear from the wording whose responsibility it is to develop guidelines, only that the State should be encouraging. However, one possibility is that the producers themselves or bodies representing them develop such standards. Another option would be that independent, special structures were created for this purpose. As on several other points, the vagueness of the Convention in this regard can be seen as an invitation to a discussion on objectives rather than offering a prescription of precise methods of implementation.

The very nature of the guidelines is also unclear, except for their purpose to protect children. Some indications are given through the references made at the end of the article to other parts of the Convention. One of them (art. 13) defines the freedom of the child to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers and type of media. Restrictions, if necessary, should be defined by law and only be justified by the respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection "of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals". The implication seems to be that such restrictions could be included in the "appropriate guidelines". However, their clearly limited nature seems to indicate that, in general, other means than censorship should also be tested.

The other reference (art. 18) is about the role of the parents or the legal guardians. They have "the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child". The State shall assist them in their child-rearing responsibilities. This wording is a reflection of the overall attitude in the Convention on the triangular relationship between the child, the guardians and the State: the parents or other guardians are of key importance to child, the State should support them and only in exceptional cases -- in the best interests of the child -- take positions on how individual children should be reared. In this context the implication is that the guardians have a direct responsibility in protecting the child against harmful media influences and should be supported in this task.


The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, set up to monitor the implementation of the Convention, has taken a three-dimensional approach when interpreting article 17:

1) Genuine access

The Committee has stressed the right of children to have access to the media, which also requires that States take proactive steps to make that right real. In this respect, it does not matter whether the media are state-run or private. Financial incentives or other forms of support will still often be necessary to guarantee a supply of children's literature and programmes. This may especially be the case for the production and dissemination of information material in minority languages.

2) Promotion of positive alternatives

The Committee has also asked for proactive measures for the promotion of important values such as, for instance, peace, tolerance, international understanding and respect between the sexes. This could also be seen as a "positive alternative" to the media violence. The media policy itself should complement the school in this regard.

3) Protection against abuse

The UN Committee has not seen a contradiction between child access to information and measures to protect children from negative influences from the media. It emphasises the importance of access but is at the same time deeply concerned about the possible negative impact of media violence.

To encourage meaningful "appropriate guidelines" the authorities need to develop a body of knowledge on patterns of viewing, listening and reading; on what is transmitted; on possible impact on various receivers, in various situations and of various materials; on means of effectively restricting injurious transmissions. In other words: the Committee recommends a comprehensive policy as a basis for the development of guidelines.

The sum is that the State has obligations in relation to all three dimensions and so also in countries where the media are totally private. How do governments of today live up to these ambitions?

Implementation for access

So far, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has completed the scrutiny of 37 country reports and another 26 reports have been received. These reports tell what the governments want to describe as their implementation of all the provisions of the Convention. An analysis of the reports in respect of article 17 is of interest. A number of reports in fact mention nothing or almost nothing about any of the aspects of the article: access, positive alternatives and protection against injurious influences. So was the case with reports from, for instance, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Jamaica, Argentina and Paraguay. Cyprus and Chile only made brief references to their Constitutions. The impression left is that there is no deliberate policy or government plans.

Other reports have been more precise. Many of them are detailed on measures taken to encourage dissemination of child-oriented materials through the press, radio and television, video recordings and books. On this point there is obviously a difference between the countries based on economic resources.

The report from Nepal states:

In the rural areas, children do nor have access to the above resources (child literature and broadcasts) due to transportation and communication problems. Education materials are also very expensive. There is little incentive to produce educational materials for children because of the high illiteracy rate. There is also little diversity in the materials available for children, whether they be on TV, radio or in newspapers. The ability to gain something from the media is largely determined by the educational status and literacy levels of children.

The reports from Yemen and Honduras flag similar constraints. However, such concerns are also voiced by some of the countries in transition. In Mongolia the production of child literature has declined sharply due to financial problems. Russia is another example:

Textbook publishing is ... facing an acute financial crisis. Production costs have recently increased on average by a factor of 10, making textbooks significantly less affordable .... The acute shortage of children's literature reduces children's interest in learning their native tongues ...


Shortages of funds have prevented satisfactory expansion in the diversity of children's material available to in the mass media. The number of children's televisions programmes broadcast has fallen over the last two years, and a large number of local libraries have had to close, unable to pay for new books and periodicals.

Both Russia and Vietnam made clear that they could not meet the standards of providing literature in minority languages due to these economic problems. Spain on the other hand, presented an impressive list of data banks made available for young people.

The general trend seems to be that governments are aware of the importance of child media in all its forms, though minority children are in some cases not given sufficient priority. This also goes for deaf and blind children who also need to be ensured information material in appropriate forms and translations.

However, resources are lacking. In fact, this particular area seems to be an important one for international co-operation: economic assistance but also exchange of ideas and experiences. The latter is especially important in view of the great gap in the quality of information material between poor countries and those with higher technological standard.

However, only a few country reports mention the importance of international co-operation. One exception is Portugal:

The Portuguese authorities attach great importance to international co-operation to facilitate the production, exchange and dissemination of information and documents of social and cultural usefulness for the child.

Implementation of positive alternatives

What has been reported on "positive alternatives", media activities for children which would promote positive values? -- In fact, surprisingly little. The report from Namibia, however, contains some clear statements indicating a political approach to the content of media:

The main objective of government policy on information is to ensure that the media, in addition to fulfilling their traditional roles of public enlightenment, education and entertainment, serve as a catalyst for nation-building and socio-economic development. The National Development Plan 1991/92 stipulates that the mass media must also be deployed to combat ignorance and illiteracy.

In the Philippines a private group, the Philippine Board of Books for Young People, is "propagating love of reading books" among children in activities similar to the remarkable reading campaign organised by the Tamer Institute in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Mexico the General Law on Radio and Television stipulates that programmes for children should stimulate creativity, family integration and human solidarity. Further, they should promote understanding of national values and knowledge of the international community.

Similar legislation is in place in several European countries. In Sweden the Broadcasting Act instructs the programme companies to assert basic ideas of democracy, universal human equality, liberty and dignity of the individual. The effectiveness of this general approach can, however, be questioned. In fact, it seems that the liberal societies have had difficulties to find means of asserting this good values without falling into the trap of formulating State opinions on ideological and political matters. More authoritarian States do not have that problem, though their rhetorics -- even when expressing positive values -- are not always taken seriously.

One way of making more reality of the intention of the convention in this regard would be to give children and youth more access to the production of information and media material. Experiments in that direction have been encouraging; positive models of child television have been established, for instance, in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Implementation for protection

The reports reflect a stark divide between the industrialised liberal countries and other States on the degree of awareness and on measures taken in relation to harmful impact of media violence. The impression given is that several governments in the South had not had reasons to tackle this problem yet -- or had little capacity for it. Some of them seem to be considering steps for moving out of the innocence, one example is Vietnam:

Another worrying tendency is the increasingly common appearance in the press of items dealing with sex and violence, the justification for this being apparently that items of this sort attract more readers, an important consideration in the market-oriented economic conditions of Viet Nam. These items are nor suitable for children, but their appearance and children's access to them are difficult to control.

Several countries mention that they have a system of censorship to "protect the child's development and psychological balance" (Burkina Faso) or to ensure that information material "are not harmful to them" (Senegal). The more concrete operations of these systems -- and their effectiveness -- are not explained in any detail. The reports submitted from the countries in eastern and central Europe also indicate that a more comprehensive policy in this field is indeed lacking.

The reports from Canada and western European countries are, however, detailed and seem to be based on thorough national discussions for some years. Several approaches are tried simultaneously. All of these countries seem to have legislation against certain serious abuses; one example is the report from Germany where "certain representations of violence ... and pornographic materials" are prohibited in the criminal law.

Advertising is restricted. In Spain, for instance, the General Act on Advertising bans publicity which is detrimental to values and rights laid down in the Constitution. Special rules regulate marketing of certain products (e.g. tobacco and beverages) or activities (e.g. betting and games of chance) in order to protect children.

Another common approach is to regulate the timing for the broadcasting of adverts and other material. The idea is that programmes which could be harmful for children be broadcast late in the evenings (when children are supposed to be in bed). This could be stipulated through law, special instructions or voluntary agreements by the media themselves.

In France an independent authority, the Audiovisual Media Board, has been set up to ensure the protection of children in the planning of broadcasts. It has issued guidelines for the television channels and initiated proceedings against violations of them. In the United Kingdom the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority have all established guidelines for the protection of children against material which could harm their mental, moral or physical development:

Guidelines on children's programmes cover the areas of violence, language and general taste and decency. These guidelines take into account the context of the action and the danger of imitative behaviour by children. In the area of news and factual programmes there is a particular awareness of a child's vulnerability and suggestibility. Broadcasters must also be aware of the dangers to children of programmes which include psychic or occult practices, smoking, drinking alcohol and drug taking

Furthermore, there is in Britain a special Council established in accordance with the 1990 Broadcasting Act which in its Code of Practice emphasises the protection of children against unsuitable material on television.

The Canadian report says that considerable progress has been made in addressing the problem of violence in the media. This after a 14-year-old girl -- whose sister had been robbed, raped and brutally killed -- had organised a successful petition campaign for legislation eliminating violence on television:

In 1993, the Action Group on Violence in Television, which includes broadcasters, cable distributors, pay television and speciality programming services, advertisers and producers, announced a General Statement of Principles to be adhered to by all industry sectors as they strengthen their codes on television violence. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters was the first to have their revised code accepted by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

In countries where there is one strong national broadcasting corporation it may be easier to establish a link between political intention and actual programme policy. The YLE Broadcasting Company in Finland is one example; it has a deliberate policy of avoiding certain violent programmes, gives clear warnings in advance of broadcasting some material and also conducts research studies about their impact.

Several reports refer to the system of age classification for the cinema. One example is Denmark:

All films to be shown in public are -- under the Act of Censorship of Films -- to be reviewed and evaluated in relation to an audience of children and young persons. At the moment there are two age limits as to prohibition, i.e. 12 years and 16 years, and in addition to this an age limit of 7 years is intended as a guide.

In some countries these limits also depend on whether the child go with an adult or is unaccompanied. A particular problem has been how to cope with the expanding film market. This is illustrated through another quote from the Danish report:

A revision of the censorship of films is being considered, one of the reasons being the ever-increasing supply of films on TV and the video market which are not covered by the Act on Censorship in force.

In Finland commercial videos are subject to the same censorship procedures as cinema films. In France the approach is similar: cassettes offered for rental or sale must indicate on their packaging any prohibitions linked to the issue of the certificate of release for the work.

The most comprehensive overall approach seems to have been taken by Norway -- after the submission of their report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In March 1995 the government issued a national plan of action against violence in the visual media. [2] This was a joint initiative by the ministries of culture and justice with the co-operation of two other ministries: the ministry for child and family affairs and the ministry for church affairs, education and research. The plan says that even if only a small minority of young people are influenced by violent media consumption the consequences could still be serious. It also concludes that social and cultural poverty increases the risks and it emphasises the preventive efforts, not least within the school.

The Norwegian plan proposes some legal precisions to include also, for instance, the video games. Its emphasis though is on assisting children and parents to make informed choices. The plan seeks to mobilise viewers and consumers to use their power and express opinions about the supply. Another ambition with the plan is that those who transmit extreme violence on the screen be held responsible. Another major aspect, again, is that networks and alliances have been built to develop knowledge and reactions against media violence.

A special secretariat has been established to monitor the implementation of the Norwegian plan; a co-ordinating committee between the ministries has also been set up as well as an advisory council of experts. There will be annual reports to the parliament.

The Norwegian approach seems to be unusually thorough and conscientious. However, the impression of the country reports from the industrialised countries, in general, is one of awareness and deep concern. The guidelines for television, including on broadcasting hours, which exist in a number of countries, may not always be respected and, moreover, seem not to stem the high volume of violence hour after hour. A particular problem is the news reporting which sometimes is illustrated with violent images, the impact of which may be even stronger than abusive fictions.

Voluntary guidelines for the press do exist in several countries; in several cases their implementation is monitored by a Press Council which is set up, wholly or partly, by the press institutions themselves. These, however, tend to focus more on the protection of children being reported upon, than on problems related to the publishing of material harmful to young readers.

The total impression of the reports from the industrialised countries is one of awareness and deep concern. The guidelines for television, including on broadcast hours, may not always be respected and, moreover, seem not to stem the high volume of violence hour after hour. A particular problem is the news reporting which sometimes is illustrated with violent images, the impact of which may be even stronger than abusive fictions.

The exploding market of videos for sale or rental have created new problems in making a distinction between child and adult consumption. Classified descriptions of the content on the package, which offer a kind of violence rating, can be of some help to parents but probably do not protect all children in real life. Computer games of a violent nature raise similar problems.


1. The Convention stresses both the right to access to information and the right to be protected against harmful material. This combined approach -- especially if access is broadened through proactive initiatives, for instance for minority children -- seems essential for the development of a comprehensive policy on children and media. Effective incentives for the production of positive material for children may be as effective as trying to limit the negative ones.

2. Some countries have indeed developed a variety of approaches in this field in what appears to be a deliberate policy. However, there seems to be little international co-operation to support the less resourceful countries with means and advice for access as well as prevention. In fact, also the richer States may benefit from further exchange on, for instance, how to develop techniques to get the information producers to respect the rights of the child.

3. The Convention gives no guidance on what type of violence in the media should be regarded as harmful; the interpretation on this delicate matter also varies between countries. Extreme instances tend to be criminalised, bur the grey zone can be wide. Regulations -- voluntary or mandatory -- on certain hours for broadcasting or ages for entry to cinemas seem to have had some positive effect as have advice to parents. New methods of protection are needed in connection with videos and computer programmes consumed in the homes.

4. The discussion on media violence have to include a broader perspective on how children now spend their day. The media problem is augmented by the fact that many children spend more time in front of television than in school and that their time with the parents is reduced. For instance, many children do not have an adult present to explain violent images in the news and to put these into an understandable context. This recent social pattern raises a number of fundamental questions which seem not to be sufficiently addressed in several countries. It also, again, stresses the importance of high quality output on the screen, "positive alternatives".

5. Governments need to take corrective measures to avoid effects of market forces which violate the "best interests of the child": through legislation, initiating independent monitoring but also through proactive steps to encourage alternatives. However, the problem of demand remains. Concerned citizens should make clear their opinions to the producers -- as was made in Canada in response to the appeal from the 14-year-old girl -- that exploitation of violence will no longer be a lucrative marker.



1. The article is an update of a paper published in Violence on the Screen and the Rights of the Child. Report from a seminar in Lund, Sweden, September 1995, Swedish National Commission for UNESCO, No.2, 1996, pp. 162-177.

2. Regjeringens Handlingsplan mot Vold i Bildemediene can be ordered from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Media Department, PO Box 8030, 0030 Oslo. There is also an English version: The Norwegian Government's Campaign to Combat Violence in the Visual Media.

The Child and the Media: A Report From the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child


The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child met on 7 October 1996 for a general discussion on the issue of "the child and the media". The Committee had invited representatives of United Nations organs, bodies and specialized agencies, other competent bodies, including non-governmental organizations, media representatives, research and academic organizations and children, to contribute to the discussions and provide expert advice.

By way of introduction, the Committee expressed the view that, as with human rights in general, the press and other media have essential functions in promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of the child and in helping to make reality of the principles and standards of the Convention. The Committee also expressed the view that the media could play a pivotal role in monitoring the actual realization of the rights of the child.

Special reference was made to the "image" of the child given by the media, which can either create and convey respect for children and young people or spread prejudices and stereotypes which may have a negative influence on public opinion and politicians. Reference was also made to the protection of the privacy of the child by the media, in reporting about, for instance, involvement in criminal activities, sexual abuse or family problems, and to the protection of children against information that may have negative and harmful impact on them, primarily programmes containing brutal violence and pornography. Finally, reference was made to the role of the media in offering children the possibility to express themselves.

The Committee identified three main areas to be considered during the debate:

Child participation in the media: In short, the discussion here centred around the importance of children participating not just as commentators, but at all levels of the information and media production process. Therefore, adequate mechanisms must be developed to enable the child to participate. Not only the media as such but also parents and professionals working with and for children must help children to make their voices heard. Among many other things mentioned, the potential positive impact of technology for children's rights was underlined, as well as the importance of their access also to all traditional media.

Protection of the child against harmful influences through the media: It was said, that States should take concrete measures to encourage the media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child, as called for in article 17(a). The clear identification of harmful influences in media was considered essential, as well as the need to raise, through school and other fora, the awareness of children on how to tackle media issues in a critical and constructive manner. Also, a better balance ought to be reached in the media between concern for protection and accurate reflection of the real world. A better balance is needed, too, regarding cultural diversity and gender bias. It was recognized that freedom of expression was not incompatible with the strong prohibition of material injurious to the child's well-being. Specific reference was also made to Internet, for example, the idea to develop in all countries hot-lines where Internet users can transmit information on existing harmful sites.

Respect for the integrity of the child in media reporting: In short, it was stressed that media play an essential role in the promotion and protection of human rights in general, and should be particularly vigilant in trying to safeguard the integrity of the child. For example, media must take into account the best interests of the child when children are sources of information, as in interviews or simulations with child victims of violence and abuse. Reference was also made to the most common stereotypes in media reporting about children, such as the "violent teenager" or the misrepresentation of children from specific groups.

On the basis of the discussions on the three areas and in my capacity as rapporteur of the meeting, I formulated the following recommendations:

1. Child media: A dossier should be compiled on positive and practical experiences of active child participation in media, like 'Children's Express' in the United Kingdom and the United States.

2. Child forum within Internet: The UNICEF-initiated 'Voices of Youth' at the World Wide Web should be further promoted and advertised as a positive facility for international discussion on important issues between young people.

3. Active child libraries: The experience of dynamic child libraries, or child departments within public libraries, should be documented and disseminated.

4. Media education: Knowledge about media, their impact and functioning should be taught in schools at all levels. Students should be enabled to relate to and use the media in a participatory manner as well as to learn how to decode media messages, including in the advertising. Good experiences in some countries should be made available to others.

5. State support to media for children: There is a need for budgetary support to ensure the production and dissemination of children's books, magazines and papers; music, theatre and other artistic expressions for children as well as child oriented films and videos. Assistance through international co-operation should also support media and art for children.

6. Constructive agreements with media companies to protect children against harmful influences: Facts should be gathered about various attempts of voluntary agreements with media companies on positive measures such as not broadcasting violent programmes during certain hours, clear presentations before programmes about their content and the development of technical devices -- like 'V-chips' -- to help consumers to bloc out certain types of programmes. Likewise, experiences of voluntary ethical standards and mechanisms to encourage respect for them should be assembled and evaluated; this should include an analysis of the effectiveness of existing Codes of Conduct, professional guidelines, Press Councils, Broadcast Councils, Press Ombudsmen and similar bodies.

7. Comprehensive national plans of action to empower parents in the media market: Governments should initiate a national discussion on means to promote positive alternatives to the negative tendencies in the media market, to encourage media knowledge and support parents in their role as guides to their children when relating with electronic and other media. An international workshop should be organized to promote a discussion on this approach.

8. Advice on implementation of article 17 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: A study should be conducted with the purpose of developing advice to governments on how they could encourage the development of 'guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being'. Such a study should also serve the purpose of assisting the Committee on the Rights of the Child in drafting a General Comment on article 17.

9. Specific guidelines for reporting on child abuse: To encourage further discussions in the news rooms and within the media community as a whole guidelines should be drafted by relevant journalist bodies on how to report on abuse of children and at the same time protect the dignity of the children involved. Special emphasis should be placed on the issue of not exposing the identity of the child.

10. Handbook material for journalist education on child rights: Material should be produced to assist journalist and media schools on child rights standards, established procedures for child rights monitoring, existing international, regional and national institutions working with children as well as basic aspects of child development. The manual planned by the United Nations Centre for Human Rights as a tool for journalist education on human rights should be widely disseminated when produced.

11. Network for media watchgroups: The positive experiences of media watchgroups in various countries should be further encouraged and 'good ideas' transferred between countries. The purpose is to give media consumers a voice in the discussion on media ethics and children. A focal point for exchanges should be established.

12. Service to 'child rights correspondents': Interested journalists should be invited to sign in to a list of 'Child Rights Correspondents'. They should receive regular information about important child issues, interesting reports by others and be seen as media advisers to the international child rights community.

A working group met on April, 14, 1997 to consider constructive ways of ensuring implementation of the twelve recommendations and other proposals made during the discussion. Authorities, organizations and individuals are welcome with further suggestions to Paolo David, Centre for Human Rights, United Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Schweiz.

Youth and Communication


We are living today in a young world. More than half of the world's population is under the age of 29, and even younger in some of the developing regions still marked by high birth rates and multi-million populations.

But if this demographic information is true, it can be asked why so little television programming is relevant to young people? Why is TV oriented more towards violence, often gratuitous violence: the use of violence to express power or authority over others, violence as "the right way" to solve problems and conflict, violence for the sake of violence, even violence for fun? One might also ask, is TV merely reflecting the violence that already exists in the world, or is TV provoking its viewers to increased violence? And is this why we still have wars, genocide and ethnic butchering?

In a more constructive spirit we could ask how we can help young people to understand and use media? How could they participate audio-visually and electronically in the world debate, to create "young media space," as urged by the United Nations World Forum of Youth in Vienna, November 1996?

UNESCO is concerned with these questions which directly affect young people in today's society, those who will continue to build democracy in our traces. These issues are also intimately bound with our mandate: the founding states promised in the UNESCO Charter that they would "save succeeding generations from the scourges of war". UNESCO is also concerned about protecting the young, and especially the very young children from gratuitous violence, sexual exhibition, pornography and paedophilia. But in doing this, states should not formulate extreme measures of regulation in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nor of Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which contains the analogous formulation for children:

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice ...

Seen from a holistic perspective, it is also necessary to appreciate the familiar, social and cultural factors that determine a child's psychological disposition and lay the foundations for understanding how much [they] see and act in their world. Ironically, much of today's research is pointing to a world-wide breakdown in the family, the school and the community.

UNESCO: new perspectives

Conscious of these difficulties, UNESCO has initiated an action theme on communication and the young, to review the factors concerning violence on the screen, to promote dialogue among the actors concerned, and to encourage young people to become critical and conscious users of media and producers of media messages. In this section, we present the earlier activities in order to better appreciate the gains made in 1997.

The round table of New Delhi

In April 1994 UNESCO, with the co-operation of the Indian Permanent Delegation and National Commission and with the financial support of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), convened a small round table of heads of public television. This brought together Doordarshan in India and All India Radio, China Central Television, Indonesian Television, the Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre (AMIC, Singapore), BBC, United Kingdom, TV5, France, and CNN, USA.

The report of the Chairman of IPDC, Mr. Torben Krogh, reflected professional concerns; restrictive legislation or other forms of control by governments or external bodies were both undesirable and ineffective in reducing violence; television broadcasters themselves should set up guidelines and impose self-discipline to adhere to them; public national broadcasting was considered the principal means for counteracting imported TV violence; financial and technical means to improve and increase national indigenous television production should be reinforced. [1]

Non-violence and television also became the subject for discussion at the IPDC thematic debate [2] in January 1996. Papers were delivered by Herve Bourges, President of the Supreme Broadcasting Council, France; S.K. Kapoor, Director-General of Doordarshan Television, India, and Colin Shaw, Director of the Broadcast Standards Council, UK. This Council also prepared a survey of selected TV organisations on how guidelines are drawn up and implemented by the industry.

Conference of Lund

From 26-27 September 1995 in the medieval city of Lund in Sweden, UNESCO cooperated with the Swedish National Commission of UNESCO in organising the International Conference on Violence on the Screen and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. [3] This forum gathered some 150 media producers and managers, researchers, journalists, politicians and teachers to discuss the threats to young audiences confronted by violence on TV and film screens as well as in electronic games.

The participants discussed the social effects of screen violence on young people; the aggravation of this situation by too easy access to programmes through cable and dish; electronic games appealing to baser instincts; and the too facile portrayal of pornography and child sex through multi-media techniques on world data systems such as Internet.

Participants were convinced that beyond violence on the screen, one must also examine the growing social impact of the information revolution and the new techno-economic paradigm it presupposes. They were also concerned that the only law to prevail would be the law of the market, that is, whatever makes money is produced and distributed. They supported the essential role of public service broadcasting to limit commercial pressures on media programming, to ensure proper social and artistic standards, and to reduce screen violence. While many urged the need to encourage self-regulation of the media, many referred to the words of the UNESCO Director-General concerning the as yet unused power of the audience, that "We can indeed turn off the TV!" In support of this, other participants held that the solutions must come not only from the industry but from within the family, since it is the family influence that in the long run will prevail or fail, and not television.

A very concrete outcome of the Lund seminar was the decision to set up an international clearinghouse on children and violence on the screen.

World youth forum

From 11 to 13 September 1996, non-governmental organisations, teachers and students gathered under the banner of the International Union of Family Organizations in Montreal. This was Prepcom, a colloquium to prepare inputs to the UN World Forum on youth to be held in Vienna, Austria, later in the year. UNESCO contributed the keynote paper on communication and youth, which sought to present the reasons why there is a communication gap between the young and the older generation; why one of the hardest things in the modern world is to speak to one's own children, and why parents find it impossible to bequeath what they believe are the lasting values of life: hard work, honesty, a solid education, good upbringing. The approaches made by adults are not only a question of education, but need to include efforts to listen as well as to speak, to learn as much as to teach, to appreciate rather than merely condemn. The paper asked whether there is not only a generation gap, but a communication gap. Is communication the problem or rather the solution?

UNESCO also participated in the UN World Youth Forum in Vienna, 21-25 November 1996, and assisted the young participants in the formulation of two projects, UN Cafes and Young media space.

UNESCO, children and the media in 1997

Many of the activities concerning children and violence on the screen initiated earlier, and often in partnership with UNESCO National Commissions, universities, NGOs and research groups bore fruit in 1997.

Forum on youth and media tomorrow

Over and beyond the question of violent content in the media, a more piercing question is how young people use media: in what situations, for what purposes and also how they perceive what they see and hear. The international forum of researchers in Paris 21 to 25 April 1997, Youth and the Media -- Tomorrow, tried to grasp this wide field. More than 350 researchers participated and over 60 papers were proposed. Organised by the Groupe de Recherche sur la Relation Enfants/Medias (GRREM) with UNESCO's intellectual and financial contribution, the forum surveyed the current situation and trends of research concerning the relationship between young people and the media, and sought through round tables to enlighten those with the power to act. The forum showed among other things that the relationship of children to television is much more complex than the general field of research has so far led us to believe.

During the forum attention was paid to the fact that the variety of national contexts and media systems has led researchers to pose questions in different ways. Researchers from different countries also stressed the apparent fixation of much of North American research to focus only on violence. This was also found to distract attention from the larger and more complicated psycho-cultural context in which violent dispositions are formed. It was also shown that there is new research in the U.S. with more contextual variables to modify certain media effects.

Several papers demonstrated how social and educational institutions are carrying learning programmes to introduce young people to understanding, criticising and using the mass media, photography, radio, video or Internet. As requested by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, a preliminary report [4] was drawn up summarising these 'best practices'. These will be further compiled with inputs from other specialised agencies and NGOs.

Scout survey: young people's perception of violence on the screen

The World Organization of the Scout Movement completed the field work for the survey of Young people's perception of violence on the screen. This was under the supervision of Jacques Cassaigneau and Mateo Jover. Young scouts, and local partners, administered questionnaires in 23 countries. Over 5,000 questionnaires have been tabulated, analysed and reviewed for conclusions by Prof. Dr. Jo Groebel of the University of Utrecht. A summary report of four pages is available in French and in English; in addition a longer, 20 page report is available in English. [6] The final comprehensive report is scheduled for publication in 1998.

More than 5,000 12-year-old pupils from 23 countries selected from the entire range of the Human Development Index (1994 data but as reported in the UNDP Human Development Report of 1997) participated, thus contributing more than 250,000 data. These young people had no particular organisational bonds, came from both urban and rural background, high and low aggression areas, high and low technology countries. This means that this survey is the largest of its kind ever conducted on this subject and in a comprehensive manner.

The survey shows that television is an ever present medium in all the areas surveyed and that children spend more time before the TV (average of 3 hours) than with any other medium (radio or books) or any other single activity including homework. Almost everyone sampled knows Terminator, Rambo or names a favourite local hero as a main model. Overall this means that many children are surrounded by an environment where "real" and media experiences both support the view that violence is natural. A violent hero like Terminator seems to represent the characteristics which children think are necessary to solve difficult situations. The fascination with violence is often related to heroes who are rewarded for their actions because they can cope with every problem. Violence on the screen thus becomes attractive as a model for solving real life problems and thus contributes to a global aggressive culture.

But violence on the screen is not the only factor. The study cautions: "It is crucial to identify the impact of the children's personality, their actual environment, experience with aggression, family circumstances and cultural context. These are the fundamental conditions which determine a person's disposition for violence." The report also proposes recommendations for further public debate among the concerned actors, and reinforcement of media education to promote a critical posture among media-consumers. It points to the UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen as a resource for working out solutions to this social problem.

Clearinghouse on children and violence on the screen

Up to now it has been almost impossible to undertake new research or even review the researches already published because there has been no single resource facility to collect, analyse and disseminate information on the subject of children, violence on the screen and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is why the Lund Conference urged the setting up of such a clearinghouse and the Nordic Information Center for Media and Communication Research (Nordicom) at University of Goteborg in Sweden, was proposed for this task. Nordicom has already had a long experience of co-operation and strengthening of links among researchers within the Nordic countries but also with other parts of the world.

The guiding framework for this work is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which Article 13 deals with freedom of expression of children and Article 17 covers the child and the media. The Convention stresses the need of children to have access to information but also urges that appropriate guidelines be drawn up for the protection of the child from injurious content.

The primary objectives of the Clearinghouse are to highlight the question of violence on the screen related to young persons, to stimulate initiatives and activities to combat gratuitous violence, and to promote a better basis for policy formulation in this domain. The data collected by the Clearinghouse will be available through internationally accessible databases to researchers, media professionals and other specialists concerned. Information is also circulated on a regular basis in printed form in a newsletter, and particularly through the Yearbook. The Swedish Government and UNESCO both support the Clearinghouse.


From all these actions, certain conclusions begin to stand out:

1. The relation between violence in the media and violence in reality is not very well understood in all its complexity. Too much attention has been paid to strictly causal relations (very difficult to demonstrate) rather than to understanding the whole process of young people's cognitive learning and how they form attitudes and lifelong positions. This was cited several times during the UNESCO/GRREM forum of researchers in April 1997 on Youth and the Media -- Tomorrow. It was also confirmed empirically in the 23-country survey on children's perceptions of violence on the screen.

2. While there may be an increasing amount of violence portrayed in the media, one also needs to examine the supportive role of society as a whole (family, school and community) as these will likely have a greater influence on individual behavior than just the TV set. And therefore remedies might well be sought in this larger context of society rather than in the media alone.

3. Protection of the young is important, but not at the expense of universal rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression is an individual and inalienable right, and serves as the foundation of democracy.

4. In taking programme decisions, audio-visual industry managers, as well as various audio-visual entertainment industries and distributors, should work in a spirit of self-discipline and where possible according to guidelines worked out by the professionals themselves.

And from this, some seemingly paradoxical working hypotheses appear to emerge:

1. The media are deeply influenced by market forces. But well-articulated societal goals and the active pursuance of these goals can raise the quality of media productions. This is all the more so, if these goals are supported by informed groups concerned to protect both civil freedoms and the interests of children;

2. that the more the media are free and self-disciplined, the more effectively they can contribute to the social, educational and cultural goals that society sets itself;

3. That the question of child participation in the media is linked with the larger question of effective participation of children in society as a whole -- in particular, the child's place in the home and in school;

4. that far more research is needed to clarify the potential contribution or damage which popular media may bring to the psychological well-being and education of children. And therefore the role of a clearinghouse is all the more relevant.

What is at issue, finally, is the ability of society as a whole to make informed choices about the type of media it wants.



1. Torben Krogh, Non-violence, Tolerance and Television, Report of the Chairman of the International Programme for the Development of Communication. Paris: UNESCO, 1995. Also available in French.

2. UNESCO, Report of the International Programme for the Development of Communication, 17th Session. Paris: UNESCO, January 1997.

3. Violence on the Screen and the Rights of the Child. Report from a seminar in Lund, Sweden. Stockholm: Svenska Unesco-radets skriftserie nr 2, 1996.

4. Carlos A. Arnaldo and Helle Jensen, Helping Young People Learn Media: a preliminary compilation of best practices. Paris: UNESCO, 1997.

5. Prof. Dr. Jo Groebel, Young People's Perception of Violence on the Screen: A joint project of UNESCO, the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

6. See the article by Jo Groebel in this Yearbook.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:37 pm

Children and Violence on the Screen

Research Articles



Scientific Co-ordinator of the Clearinghouse

Children and violence on the screen

The debate about media violence has fluctuated heavily at the same time as the media have been introduced and spread. In the context of this debate, different media have been more or less in focus during different periods -- from books, popular press and film in earlier centuries, to radio, comics, national TV, video, mediated music and satellite-TV during the course of the 20th century, to digital and so-called interactive media such as electronic games, the Internet and "virtual reality" now as we approach the millennium.

But whereas indignant voices are more seldom raised about violence in the print and audio media today, the concern for violence in the visual media has remained. As a consequence, the research on media violence that started in the 1920s and has been intensified during later decades, has, above all, applied to film and television, with the addition, during the last fifteen years, of studies on video, electronic games and Internet.

With more media, the amount of media violence has increased. This is due not only to the cumulative effects of the creation of new media, but also to the increased competition between the media and their globalisation and privatisation. Compared to the field of media and telecommunications, since the 1980s, hardly any other area has experienced such rapid globalisation, record growth and concentration of power. The market is now dominated by a minority of extensive conglomerates or of whole commercial worlds. U.S.-based conglomerates are the largest and most numerous, but there are also considerable transnational enterprises based in Asia and the partly deregulated Europe (Herman & McChesney 1997).

The fact that the U.S. distributes most of the media violence in the world, leads, among other things, to the circumstance that American programmes on German television contain four times as much violence as the German programmes, according to a content analysis (Groebel & Gleich 1993). In a Swedish content analysis of all programmes except the news on six TV channels (Cronstrom & Hoijer 1996), 62 per cent of the violent time (i.e., pure sequences of violence) consisted of violent scenes of U.S. origin. In this case, the sequences of violence in trailers were not taken into account; they made up 15 per cent of the total violent time. Since trailers often are advertisements for coming action films and the like, one can estimate that about 70 per cent of the violent time might have been of U.S. origin.

The concentration of media ownership is not only valid for television programmes, video and cinema films, but also for comics, electronic games, etc. Thus, this power concentration does not result in manifoldness, cultural variation and freedom of expression where most people can be heard, but in one-sidedness and a kind of private censorship.

Many countries are worried about the one-sidedness of imported programmes and films which they cannot counterbalance with own production, although it is, of course, impossible to generalise between nations, as conditions and prerequisites are different (e.g., Japan and India export many TV programmes and films to other Asian countries; Brazil many programmes in Latin America; Australia several programmes to Asia and English-speaking countries, etc.). One example is the situation in former Eastern Europe. Here the relief felt after the liberation from censorship, after the collapse of the Wall in 1989, has been obscured by the surprise and distaste currently experienced by parts of the population due to the flood of violent and pornographic programmes and films pouring over the nations' borders. More and more, voices urging for media legislation have been raised there (see, e.g., Larsson 1997, Minichova 1997), and new national rules and laws about media violence, passed in the 1990s, exist in most Eastern European countries (Irving & Tadros 1997).

At the same time, it is important to note that persons, on the average, prefer to watch TV programmes without violence, at least according to an American analysis (Gerbner 1997). From many nations in the world, it is also reported that the average inhabitant prefers to watch home-produced programmes, if there are home-produced alternatives -- national soap operas, national fiction, etc. (Goonasekera 1995, Sancho 1995, Lamb 1997). However, such alternatives are often lacking or are few. Drama and fiction are expensive to produce and, in most countries, expenditures cannot be expected to result in big export incomes, as in the U.S. which dominates world export.

What drives media violence, then, is not primarily popularity but global marketing (Gerbner 1997). Concentration of media ownership also makes it difficult for newcomers, smaller firms and alternative production companies to succeed on the home market. They are therefore forced into the video branch and foreign sales. Their products need a dramatic ingredient that requires no translation and fits as many cultures as possible. That ingredient is often violence. A study in the U.S. indicated that American programmes exported to other countries contain more violence than American programmes shown in the U.S. (Gerbner 1997).

This all means, among other things, that almost 90 per cent of 12-year-old school children are acquainted with violent action characters such as Terminator and Rambo, according to a global study in 23 countries (see the article in this book by Jo Groebel).

In some nations, not least the Western ones, criminological research indicates that violence in society has increased during the latest decades. Furthermore, statistics have recently been published showing that violence has become more common among children under 15 years of age.

What, then, does research say about the relationship between media violence and violence in society? This is the theme of the first section of research articles -- Children and Violence on the Screen -- in this book.

It must be stressed that research about media violence is most unevenly distributed in the world. Such research has primarily been done in countries with plenty of media -- in North America and, next, Western Europe (more often in Northern than Southern Europe), as well as in Japan and Australia. Overviews of such research results are presented in the book by Ellen Wartella, Adriana Olivarez and Nancy Jennings, USA, Barbara Wilson and her team, USA, Sachiko I. Kodaira, Japan, and Kevin Durkin and Jason Low, Australia. The two last-mentioned overviews also deal with the still relatively scanty research on video and computer games. In most other countries, studies about media violence are fewer or lacking. Interesting examples of existing studies are, however, given in the book by Dafna Lemish, Israel, and Tatiana Merlo-Flores, Argentina.

Taken together, the articles show that it is difficult to generalise the research results across different countries and cultures. As Olga Linne, UK, stresses in her discussion of the research development in Europe, each country must therefore be given the opportunity to carry out research on its own terms and within its own cultural context. As does the Japanese contributor Sachiko Kodaira in the book, I would also like to emphasise that far more future research on children and the media must be performed on an International level, i.e., comparatively and in various countries simultaneously, in order to gain a proper understanding of the role of media, and media violence, in children's lives. Kodaira mentions one of several concrete examples in this connection: Comparative content analyses of violent portrayals in Japanese and U.S. television have shown, that although media violence is extensive in both cultures, it is represented in different ways. Among other differences, violence in Japanese as compared to U.S. dramas is much more often followed by scenes showing the after-effects of violence on victims and the process of their suffering. This factor, in combination with the different societal contexts, could possibly be of importance for the fact that causal relationships between TV violence and aggression among viewers have been found in the U.S. but not in Japan.

Apart from the cultural and national variation in research which limits researchers' abilities to generalise and summarise results, many journalists, TV producers, politicians, teachers, parents, etc., in the public debate in each single country often perceive the research results on the influences of media violence as being "contradictory" or that "the researchers are at odds". I do not think that these perceptions represent the truth of the matter. The situation is, rather, that even different studies within a given country are performed in different contexts -- the studies have varying aims, perspectives and questions as starting points and elucidate, consequently, different parts of the complex of problems. Neither can any study comprise "the whole reality". Further, different viewers receive different impressions from media violence. On thinking it over and after a more careful analysis, the perspectives and the results complement each other as do the pieces in a puzzle. At the same time, it is a question of understanding that reality is complicated and that the media only are one part of people's environment, of culture and society. Media are not, and cannot be, the sole and/or direct cause of influence but function within a nexus of other decisive factors.

As regards the different research perspectives, research on media violence has -- as does other social scientific and human research -- among other things, its roots in the basic philosophical question about human beings' free will. To what degree are we products of the environment -- of parents, school, peers, media, religion and social structure -- and to what degree do we choose and act independently? Even if most people agree that both elements play a role, some of us lay greater stress on the role of structure and others greater stress on the role of the agent. This is valid for researchers, too. Some, therefore, analyse how we are influenced by media violence (in interplay with the rest of the environment). Others, instead, illustrate how we (having different needs, motives, conflicts and interests) choose and use media violence. But these perspectives are not in themselves contradictory; they highlight different aspects of the existential circumstances of human beings and lie, therefore, on different places on the theoretical map. Thus, the researchers contributing to this book also have different theories, besides the fact that their research has been carried out in differing national contexts.

There is, thus, no contradiction in the fact that certain persons actively search out media violence to, e.g., get excitement, become fascinated, express their masculinity, experience power on a symbolic level, try to strengthen their identity in protest against the adult world, get compensation for conflicts in their personal relations, etc. -- while others get impressions of negative art. Different children, young people and adults react differently. Also, the same person reacts differently on differing occasions. He or she can even simultaneously seek media violence and be influenced by it in an intricate interplay.

Similarly, different studies investigate different types of influence. In those countries where much research has been done, one can discern various such unwanted influences of media violence as, for example, imitation; getting "tips" and models about how violence can be used; aggression; fear; anxiety and uneasiness about a threatening surrounding; biased conceptions about violence in society; and habituation to media violence. There are also complicated relationships between these types of influences. It is, for instance, likely that for some individuals media violence has contributed to feelings of fear, misconceptions about real violence, and experiences of threatening surroundings that, in a situation of crisis, can turn into destructive aggression (for a more detailed analysis of negative and positive consequences of media violence, see von Feilitzen 1993).

Generally, children and media violence should also be seen in a wider perspective. Research has mostly defined media violence as the physical, manifest violence on the screen, and this is primarily valid also for the articles in this book. There are, however, other forms of symbolic and structural oppression and misuse of power that are at least as essential. We hope to come back to such definitions in later Clearinghouse publications. Here, I will restrict myself to only a couple of examples: The fact that children are heavily under-represented in the media output as a whole, is a symbolic oppression of children. They are seldom seen, their voices are seldom heard, and adult media characters seldom talk about them. With the spread of commercial satellite television, this under-representation of children seems to have been reinforced, and when children now appear in the media contents they seem to be more often portrayed to support adult roles than in their own rights. The only medium where children seem to be frequently represented is advertising. This is in line with the fact that children and young people have from a Western societal viewpoint (disregarding their value for the parents), a primarily economic-consuming function (von Feilitzen in progress).

The area of children and media violence also includes those cases where children are at the mercy of media news -- when they are portrayed as victims of violence, abuse, catastrophes and starvation without respect for their integrity. Children and media violence also includes child pornography.

Children's media situation

It is important to emphasise that children are not a small minority group "on the side". If we -- in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -- by children mean all persons under the age of 18, they constitute approximately 37 per cent of the total world population.

Children are unevenly distributed across the various countries. Estimates indicate that, on the average, children under 18 in richer countries make up ca. 24 per cent of the population and in the developing countries ca. 40 per cent of the population. In certain countries the population is composed of up to 55 per cent children (see the statistical section Children in the World in this book).

The uneven distribution of children in the world becomes clearer, if we leave adults out of the picture: Of the more than two billion children on the globe, ca. 13 per cent live in the richer countries and ca. 87 per cent in the developing countries (UNICEF 1997).

Children's access to TV and other media is very unevenly distributed, too -- but in a diametrically opposite way. In many European countries, and in North America, Japan and Australia, most children have all thinkable media technology in their homes. Not only do they have TV, but often two or more TV apparatuses at home, of which often one is in their own room. At the same time, there are frequently a video, personal computer and electronic computer and/or video games. More and more, children can also use CD-ROM and the Internet. In these countries, the parents -- who traditionally have had the greatest influence on children's media use -- therefore also have less and less insight into how much and what children watch. Media use is becoming more and more individualised and it is increasingly difficult for adults to serve as models for and accompany and discuss children's viewing.

In some countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America it is, on the other hand, common to watch together using the only generator driven TV or video in the village. One basic reason is that there is so little electricity in the rural areas, where most people live. Nor is it unusual that children have never watched TV at all (Jahangir 1995). The TV and video apparatuses are, however, forcing their way into all corners of the world, parallel to the explosion of satellite-TV channels and video films of the 1980s and 90s, with more and more advertising, fiction and media violence (see also Robert Lamb's article in this book).

As expected, children's TV programming is most unevenly distributed, as well. In some countries, hardly any children's programmes are produced. Even in the richer countries, however, the conditions of children's programming vary. In the U.S., the traditional TV networks seldom broadcast children's programmes which are tailored to different age groups and they seldom broadcast informative children's programmes (Chong 1995). The number of newly produced children's programmes in the U.S. has also clearly decreased since the deregulation of TV in the 1980s (Palmer 1995). In Europe, Japan and Australia, countries which normally have had a long tradition of production of children's programmes, these programmes on the national public service channels are threatened by competition from the many satellite-TV channels, which mostly contain fiction and animation.

A marked trend in the world is the introduction of special "niche" channels for children such as Nickelodeon, Disney, Fox and National Geographic. But these are American based pay-TV channels to which only some children have access. Some glimpses of children's media situation in the world are presented in the second section of research articles in this book -- Children's Media Situation. It must be stressed, however, that here, too, the articles are, primarily, about countries where research has been performed and where statistics on children's media access and media use are available. The articles by Anura Goonasekera, Singapore, Sun Yunxiao, the People's Republic of China, Stephen Nugent, Australia, Nadia Bulbulia, South Africa, and Keith Roe, Belgium, point out important variations in children's media, media access and media use in different regions.

The future goal of the Clearinghouse is to give a more diverse picture of children's media situation from a greater spectrum of countries -- potential and interested authors are welcome to contact us. In this connection we have also contacted media research institutes in 40-50 nations to, if possible, obtain comparable statistics on children's media use. However, if continuous ratings or the like do exist in the country, they do not always include children. When child figures are included, methods as well as age groups vary in a way that make the data difficult to compare. We will continue to work with these figures and hope to return to them in a later publication. The statistical section Media in the World in this book gives an illustrative background, with facts on the distribution of TV, video, television programming for children and youth, cinema screens, computers, electronic games, radio and books, etc, in different countries, as well as a list of the largest International entertainment companies in the world.

A growing global awareness

Even if it is sometimes easy to feel resigned, especially on a national plane, to the drawbacks brought by the global media expansion, there are also positive features in the form of a counter-movement -- the growing global awareness of children's media situation (see the Clearinghouse newsletters News on Children and Violence on the Screen No. 1-3 1997). An essential support for this movement is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. One function of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is to follow up the various member nations' observance of the Convention. The Committee has in this connection entered the child and the media as a particularly important issue on the agenda. Within the Committee there is at present a working group on children and media, and the Committee has set down a range of recommendations on how implementation of articles 17 and 13 in the Convention can be realistically and practically regarded and facilitated (see the introductory section in the book, Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas).

The counter-movement is, for example, characterised by several recent International and regional meetings intended to support the vacillating state of children's TV programming, such as the film festival in Bratislava in 1994, the World Summit on Television and Children in Melbourne in 1995, the corresponding Asian Summit on Child Rights and the Media in Manila, 1996, and the African Summit on Children's Broadcasting in Accra, 1997. Resolutions and declarations on children's programmes have been one result; these are circulated to the world's TV companies as a means of pressure and for endorsement. These documents are reproduced in the section International Declaration and Resolution in the book. The Children's Television Charter resulting from the World Summit in Melbourne has, together with the Asian and African regional declarations, been discussed at the Second World Summit on Television for Children in London in March, 1998. A regional Summit on children's television for the Americas is planned for the year 2000, and a third World Summit is to be expected the year thereafter.

Furthermore, an International association for child and media researchers (IRFCAM, International Research Forum on Children and Media) was established in Melbourne, 1995, and the first large International forum ever for child and media researchers was held in 1997 in Paris, arranged by GRREM (Groupe de la recherche sur la relation enfants/medias).

The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen is also a part of this growing global awareness. The same applies for other UNESCO activities related to children and the media (see the introductory section in the book, Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas).

Moreover, a World Council for Media Education was created in the mid-1990s, which will meet for the second time in Sao Paolo in May 1998. Media education is regarded by many as a solution -- through education children and young people can learn to reflexively handle the media (therein could lie a "solution" to the problem of media violence, too). Even if good media education partly can have this function, there is reason for pessimism, however, since media education in the schools is seldom fully realised. Despite the fact that media education in some form has long been included in the curricula in many countries, and despite the fact that the importance of media education has been stressed in many national, regional and International governmental reports and other contexts, very few children have in practice any media education at all. Apart from the efforts of lone fiery spirits among some teaching-staff, the fine phrases about media education have mostly been on paper, especially when it comes to visual media.

Nor has media education -- or information on children and the media -- for parents and producers always found effective forms. Realising this kind of media education has also become more and more complicated due to the individualisation of media use in the homes and due to the deregulated, globalised media market where national politicians have less and less say, and the media, to a greater extent, turn to an expanding industry of private research institutes rather than to university researchers.

In the future, the Clearinghouse will also seek to stimulate exchange of knowledge about media education in the schools, and for parents and producers worldwide.

At the same time, there is need for other types of initiatives to improve children's relations to the media. Among other things, children should be actively included in the actual media production, something which also will mean a better platform for children's voices and opinions and a more just representation of children in the media. The section Children's Participation in the Media in this book presents a few, by no means exhaustive, examples of such initiatives which further children's rights -- it is hoped that these examples can inspire similar activities. Among the examples are: UNICEF's media activities for children, the news agency Children's Express in the UK and USA, and children's and young people's participation in radio, television and video production, as well as on the Internet, in a range of countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and North America. The Clearinghouse is interested in collecting and publishing more comments and articles on positive and practical experiences of active child participation in the media world-wide, and hope that persons and organisations engaged in other projects related to children's media participation contact us about them.

In the growing global movement -- in addition to these mentioned meetings, declarations, associations, fora and other activities -- many voluntary International and national organisations exist which in various and other ways are engaged in issues related to children and media.

In the light of the fact that the discussion on children and media in several countries was heated during the 1970s, at least in those countries where the media are widely spread, but diminished during the deregulation in the 1980s, it is, in sum, gratifying to observe that the discussion has increased again and now also is carried on at the necessary global level. It is essential that the new discussion should partly focus on negative aspects -- for example, to limit gratuitous media violence by encouraging the media to impose self-regulation. These regulations and measures could include that the media stipulate water-sheds before which times media violence shall not be transmitted; that the media classify media violence (by age limits and/or contents) and inform the viewers by means of, e.g., visible icons on the screen; perhaps that, as in the USA and Canada, V-chips are put into the TV-sets; that parents are offered different blocking devices for the Internet, etc. (see further under the headline Regulations and Measures in this book with contributions by Titti Forsslund, Sweden, and Joanne Lisosky, USA). It is of vital importance, however, that the discussion also focus on the positive possibilities of the media -- for example, to increase manifoldness and quality in children's and adult programming, by means of, among other things, financial and other production support, and exchange of programmes between countries via special programme banks; to work for children's own participation in the media; and, not least, to realise all children's right to access to media.

Changing children's media situation also means that the circumstances in their personal environments and in society must be improved. Firstly, the risk of unwanted media influences is far less for children who are growing up in safe conditions and who have good relations to parents, school and peers. Secondly, it is necessary that children and young people are allowed to participate actively in shaping their society's future. Statements about how we adults need to hear children's voices and how we must listen to them will remain empty words unless children are given more opportunities to affect their own conditions. If children and young people become involved in activities that both are meaningful for themselves and are important for the decision making process in society -- then they will also automatically be represented and heard in the media.



Chong, Rachelle (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammatberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartemenret, Valdsskildringsddet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Cronstrom, Johan & Hoijer, Birgitta (1996) 40 timmar vald i veckan -- en studie av vald i sex svenska TV-kanaler [40 hours of violence per week -- a study of violence on six Swedish TV channels). Kulturdepartemenret, Va;dsskildringsddet, nr 14. (In Swedish)

von Feilitzen, Cecilia (1993) "Vald -- serr pa olika satt. Perspektiv pa medievaldets paverkan och berydelse [Violence -- regarded in different ways. Perspectives on the influence and meaning of media violence]", in von Feilitzen, Cecilia, Forsman, Michael & Roe, Keith (Eds.) Vald fran alia hall. Forskningsperspektiv pa vald i rorliga bilder. Stockholm/Stehag, Brutus Ostlings bokforlag Symposion, pp. 25-48. (In Swedish)

von Feilitzen, Cecilia (in progress) Barnen i TV [Children on television]. Research project at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, Stockholm university. (In Swedish)

Gerbner, George (1997) "Violence in TV Drama", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 3, pp. 6-7.

Goonasekera, Anura (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartemenret, Valdsskildringsddet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Groebel, Jo & Gleich, Uli (1993) Gewaltprofil des deutschen Fernsehprogramms: Eine Analyse des Angebots privater und offentlich-rechtlicher Sender. Schriftenreihe Medienforschung der Landesanstalt fur Rundfunk Nordthein-Westfalen, 6. Opladen, Leske+Budrich.

Herman, Edward S. & McChesney, Robert W. (1997) The Global Media. The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London, Cassel.

Irving, Joan & Tadros, Connie (1997) Creating a Space for Children. Volume 2. Children's Film and Television in Central and Eastern Europe. Montreal, International Centre of Films for Children and Young People (CIFEJ).

Jahangir, Asma (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit - on the rights of television and the child). Kulrurdepartementer, Valdsskildringsrader, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Lamb, Robert (1997) The Bigger Picture: Audio-visual Survey and Recommendations. UNICEF.

Larsson, Mika (1997) "Polish-Swedish Seminar 1996 -- Media Violence on Polish Agenda 1997", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 1-2, pp. 18-19.

Minichova, Kararina (1997) "Stop Violence in TV Programmes!", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 3, pp. 16.

News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 1-3 1997. Newsletters from The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen, Nordicom, Goteborg University.

Palmer, Ed (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulrurdepartementer, Valdsskildringsradet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Sancho, Neila (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet - om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartementer, Valdsskildringsrader, nr 16. (In Swedish)

UNICEF (1997) The State of the World's Children 1997. UNICEF, Oxford University Press.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:40 pm

Children and Television Violence in the United States


Americans live in a violent society. Alarming statistics reveal changes in U.S. society as the result of increased violence. According to a report issued by the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 1993), guns are involved in more than 75 percent of adolescent killings. Firearm-related violent crimes have been on the rise in the 1990's. Research indicates a 75.6 percent increase in firearm-related aggravated assault from 1985 to 1994 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). Americans have the highest murder rate of any nation in the world. But the numbers that tell the most tragic story concern children and adolescents:

• Among young people in the age group 15-24 years old, homicide is the second leading cause of death and for African American youth murder is number one.
• Adolescents account for 24 percent of all violent crimes leading to arrest. The rate has increased over time for those in the 12-19 year old age group, while it is down in the 35 and older age group. According to the Federal reports on crime in 1995, juvenile arrests for weapon violations have increased 113 percent nationwide between the years 1985 and 1994.
• Every 5 minutes a child is arrested in America for committing a violent crime and gun related violence take the life of an American child every three hours.
• A child growing up in Washington, DC, or Chicago is 15 times more likely to be murdered than a child in Northern Ireland.

What could account for this? Most of us generally accept the notion that violent behavior is a complex, multivariable problem, formed of many influences. Racism, poverty, drug abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, gangs, guns, mental illness, a decline in family cohesion, a lack of deterrents, the failure of positive role models ... all interact to affect antisocial behavior. As Rowell Huesmann has argued, aggression is a syndrome, an enduring pattern of behavior that can persist through childhood into adulthood.

In simple terms, one given specific act of violence may be less mysterious than some think. We only suggest this theoretically, for of course, we have few doubts that violence is nothing if not insidious and intractable in many ways. But consider the context not of one act of violence, but of the persistent fact of violence. Clearly a number of factors contribute to violence in American society, but to ignore television violence would be a grave oversight. Violence tears across the television screen through many types of programs from music videos and entertainment shows to reality programming and the evening news. By the time the average American child graduates from elementary school, he or she will have seen over 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other assorted acts of violence (Huston et al., 1992). Even though viewing media violence may not be the sole contributor to violent behavior nor does it have the same effect on all who watch it, more than 40 years of research does indicate a relationship between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior.

Moreover, the United States is a very heavy television using country: 98 percent of the 95 million American homes have television sets and nearly three quarters have more than one set; two-thirds have cable TV and four-fifths have VCRs. The television set is on more than seven hours per day in the average American home (Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook, 1996).

Most importantly, the television Americans watch -- and increasingly the television programming transported around the world via American and other multinational television conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch's Sky television -- is very violent programming. Since 1994 we have been involved in the largest-ever study of portrayals of violence on American television, the National Television Violence Study, which came about as a consequence of American public and political concern about the relationship between television violence and real world violence.

In 1993, U.S. Senator Paul Simon became angered by network and cable television inaction after earlier federal legislation exempting the broadcast networks from antitrust regulation to allow them to agree on self-regulation of television violence. Simon strongly suggested that the networks and cablecasters appoint independent groups to monitor violence on television and cable for three years. Failure to do so, Simon said, would lead to Congressional hearings and legislation to reduce television violence. The networks appointed one monitor, and the cablecasters, through the National Cable Television Association, appointed another, the National Television Violence Study (or NTVS). Each was asked to monitor television programming for three years, and each hoped to avoid further regulation. However, the comprehensive 1996 U.S. National Telecommunications Act did bring further regulation, in the form of the V-chip, or blocking device for television sets, and a rating system for all television programming which allows viewers to screen out via the V-chip unwanted, presumably violent, content from appearing on their TV screens.

The National Television Violence Study

The NTVS reports on how violence is portrayed on cable and broadcast television in each of three years, 1996, 1997 and 1998, and it makes recommendations to policymakers, the industry and to parents. Our first report in February 1996 reported on television programming from the 1994-95 television season, and the latest report released in March 1997 reported on programming from the 1995-96 season.

The content analysis of television was of a constructed sample week (collected over more than two dozen weeks from October through June) of programming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on 23 channels; these channels included the major broadcast networks, three independent stations, public broadcasting, 12 of the most popular basic cable networks and three premium cable channels -- HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. In all, about 3,200 programs were sampled each year and about 2,700 were content analyzed for their depictions of violence.

We found very little change from year one to year two of our studies. The majority of American television shows have at least one act of violence in them; the context in which most violence is presented is sanitized; violence is rarely punished in the immediate context in which it occurs; and it rarely results in observable harm to the victims. For instance, in both years, we found that perpetrators of violence go unpunished in more than 70 percent of all violent scenes -- although they may be punished by the end of the program. Moreover, the negative consequences of violence -- harm to the victims, their families, as well as the psychological, if not actual physical harm to the perpetrators of violence -- are not often portrayed. For example, nearly half of all violent interactions show no harm to the victims and more than half show no pain. And very infrequently, in less than one-fifth of all violent programming, are the long-term negative repercussions of violence, such as psychological, financial or emotional harm, ever portrayed. Weapons (such as handguns) appear in about one-quarter of all violent programs and very few programs (we estimate 4 percent in each year) have anti-violent themes. On the good side, with the exception of movies on television, television violence is not usually explicit or graphic. And there are differences across television channels (American public television being the least violent and premium cable channels being the most likely to have violent programs), and across programming genres (again movies on cable are most likely to show violence). Overall, however, the NTVS has demonstrated a striking amount of consistency in the presentation of violence on American television over the first two years of the study. American television is indeed a violent medium. (For a more detailed presentation of the National Television Violence Study, see next article.)

Research on the influences of television violence

Over the past forty plus years more than 3,500 research studies of the effects of television violence on viewers have been conducted in the United States, and during the 1990s there have been several extensive reviews of this literature, including the 1991 report of the Centers for Disease Control, which declared television violence a public health hazard; the 1993 study of violence in American life from the National Academy of Science, which implicated media along with other social and psychological contributors to violence; and the American Psychological Association's 1992 study, which also implicated media violence. All three of these reviews supported the conclusion that mass media contribute to aggressive behavior and attitudes as well as lead to desensitization and fear effects, No study claims that viewing media violence is the only, nor even the most important, contributor to violent behavior. Furthermore, it is not every act of violence in the media that raises concern, nor every child or adult who is affected. Yet, there is clear evidence that exposure to media violence contributes in significant ways to real world violence. Each of the three major effects of watching media violence, with specific concerns for child viewers, will be considered: the social learning effect, the desensitization effect and the fear effect.

Social learning

The 1993 report of the American Psychological Association concluded that: "there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of this violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior" (American Psychological Association, 1993). This conclusion is based on the examination of hundreds of experimental and longitudinal studies which support this position. Moreover, field studies and cross-national studies indicate that the viewing of television aggression increases subsequent aggression and that such behavior can become part of a lasting behavioral pattern.

Three basic theoretical models have been proposed to describe the process by which such learning and imitation of television violence occurs: social learning theory, priming effects theory and a social developmental model of learning.

Social learning theory, first proposed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s, is perhaps the best known theoretical account of violence effects. Bandura asserts that through observing television models, viewers come to learn behaviors which are appropriate; that is, which behaviors will be rewarded and which will be punished. In this way, viewers seek to attain rewards and therefore want to imitate these media models. When both children and adults are shown an aggressive model who is either rewarded or punished for their aggressive behavior, models who are positively reinforced influence imitation among the viewers. Even research in the field has demonstrated that aggression is learned at a young age and becomes more impervious to change as the child grows older. In a longitudinal study to examine the long-term effects of television violence on aggression and criminal behavior, Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz and Walder (1984) studied a group of youth across 22 years, at ages 8, 18 and 30. For boys (and to a lesser, though still significant extent for girls), early television violence viewing correlated with self-reported aggression at age 30 and added significantly to the prediction of serious criminal arrests accumulated by age 30. These researchers find a longitudinal relationship between habitual childhood exposure to television violence and adult crime and suggest that approximately 10 percent of the variability in later criminal behavior can be attributed to television violence.

Priming effects theory serves to augment the more traditional social learning theory account of television violence effects. In the work of Leonard Berkowitz and his colleagues, this theoretical account asserts that many media effects are immediate, transitory and short (Berkowitz, 1984). Berkowitz suggests that when people watch television violence, it activates or "primes" other semantically related thoughts which may influence how the person responds to the violence on TV: viewers who identify with the actors on television may imagine themselves like that character carrying out the aggressive actions of the character on television, and research evidence suggests that exposure to media aggression does indeed "prime" other aggressive thoughts, evaluations and even behaviors such that violence viewers report a greater willingness to use violence in interpersonal situations.

Only Rowell Huesmann's (1986) theoretical formulation of the social developmental model of violence effects offers a true reciprocal theoretical account of how viewers' interest in media violence, attention to such violence and individual viewer characteristics may interact in a theory of media violence effects. Using ideas from social cognition theory he develops an elaborate cognitive mapping or script model. He argues that social behavior is controlled by "programs" for behavior which are established during childhood. These "programs" or "scripts" are stored in memory and are used as guides to social behavior and problem solving. Huesmann and Miller (1994) submit that "a script suggests what events are to happen in the environment, how the person should behave in response to these events, and what the likely outcome to those behaviors would be". Violence from television is "encoded" in the cognitive map of viewers, and subsequent viewing of television violence helps to maintain these aggressive thoughts, ideas and behaviors. Over time such continuing attention to television violence thus can influence people's attitudes toward violence and their maintenance and elaboration of aggressive scripts.

This theory suggests that while viewing violence may not cause aggressive behavior, it certainly has an impact on the formation of cognitive scripts for mapping how to behave in response to a violent event and what the outcome is most likely to be. Television portrayals, then, are among the media and personal sources that provide the text for the script which is maintained and expanded upon by continued exposure to scripts of violence.

Huesmann has demonstrated that there are key factors which are particularly important in maintaining the television viewing-aggression relationship for children: the child's intellectual achievement level, social popularity, identification with television characters, belief in the realism of the TV violence and the amount of fantasizing about aggression. According to Huesmann, a heavy diet of television violence sets into motion a sequence of processes, based on these personal and interpersonal factors, that results in many viewers becoming not only more aggressive but also developing increased interest in seeing more television violence.

Variations by portrayals and viewers

Clearly, not all violent depictions should be treated equally, nor all viewers. The National Television Violence Study has identified several contextual factors within a representation that may influence audience reactions to media violence including: 1) the nature of the perpetrator, 2) the nature of the target, 3) the reason for the violence, 4) the presence of weapons, 5) the extent and graphicness of the violence, 6) the degree of realism of the violence, 7) whether the violence is rewarded or punished, 8) the consequences of violence, and 9) whether humor is involved in violence (Wilson et al., 1996).

In addition, research indicates that certain factors may be processed differently by young viewers. First, young children have more difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy and often imitate superheros with magical powers such as the Power Rangers (Boyatzis, 1995). Secondly, young children may have difficulty connecting scenes and drawing inferences from the plot. Timing of punishments and rewards becomes important in this instance. In many programs, the crime or violent behavior may go unpunished until the end of the program. Young children may have difficulty connecting the ending punishment with the initial violent act and may, therefore, believe that the violence went unpunished (Wilson et al., 1996). Thus, learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors from television varies by both the nature of the portrayals and the nature of the viewers. The presence of contextual factors in the portrayals which may inhibit young children's social learning of aggression decreases the negative consequences of such portrayals and should be encouraged. Not all violent portrayals are the same and the context of violence is clearly quite important. Similarly, young children, those under the age of seven or eight, may be particularly susceptible to learning from exposure to television violence because of differences in how they make sense of television compared to adults.

Desensitization and fear

Two other effects of television violence viewing have been identified in the research literature: the desensitization and the fear effect. These effects may influence even those viewers who do not themselves behave violently or who have positive attitudes towards using violence.

Research has demonstrated that prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward real world violence and the victims of violence which in turn can lead to callous attitudes toward violence directed at others and a decreased likelihood to take action on behalf of the victim when violence occurs (e.g., Donnerstein, Slaby and Eron, 1994; for further references and discussion, see Wilson et al., 1996). Over time, even those viewers who initially react with horror at media violence may become habituated to it or more psychologically comfortable such that they view any given act of violence as less severe and they may evaluate media violence more favorably. Desensitization can effect all viewers over time.

A third likely effect of viewing television violence has been studied extensively by George Gerbner and his colleagues (Gerbner, Gross, Signiorelli and Morgan, 1986) which demonstrates that heavy viewers of television violence become fearful of the world, afraid of becoming a victim of violence and over time engage in more self-protective behaviors and show more mistrust of others. To the extent that viewers equate the fictional world of television with its overrepresentation of violence as the same as the real world they live in, then such heavy viewers tend to see their world as a fearful and crime-ridden place. It is likely that both fictional and reality programs (including crime-saturated television news) contribute to this fear-inducing effect among viewers.

Television violence in a global context

The substantial research in the United States over the past more than 40 years has been reviewed and found persuasive among the American public and politicians. It was reviews and conclusions such as those presented here which encouraged Senator Simon's and the U.S. Congress's considerable policy initiatives against television violence in the last four years. Children as an audience for such violence have been of considerable concern, and indeed, the V-chip blocking device is thought to be a reasonable remedy for parents to use to protect their children from violent television programming.

Whether the magnitude of the effects of television violence in comparison with other causes of American violence and our violent society is small or large is not at all clear. Many European critics of the American violence literature have pointed out that neither television outside of the U.S. is as violent as our television, nor are the other underlying factors such as poverty and the easy access to guns as prevalent, and therefore this literature is not applicable to other countries and other cultures. To the extent that the global nature of television and film and the dominance of American popular culture is moving across the privatized television environments of Europe and elsewhere, then perhaps American television programming and its effects will foreshadow concerns about television violence effects in other countries. It is clear that where children and television violence is concerned, the question that remains is not whether media violence has an effect, but rather how important that effect is in comparison with other factors in bringing about the current level of crime in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Future research should also aim to establish who precisely is most susceptible to media violence, and, most importantly, what sorts of intervention might help diminish its influence. In the meantime, any interventions that help establish policies and practices to reduce the socially inappropriate ways of portraying violence and increase the socially responsible ways (such as using violence to assert anti-violence messages) should be encouraged as well. Children and television violence is a public issue that is not going away and which should engage all who are concerned with children's welfare.



American Psychological Association, 1993. Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response. Vol. I: Summary Report of the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Berkowitz, Leonard, 1984. Some Effects of Thoughts on Anti- and Prosocial Influences of Media Events: A Cognitive Neoassociationistic Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 95 (3), 410-427.

Boyatzis, Chris, Gina Matillo, Kristen Nesbitt, & Gina Cathey, 1995 (March). Effects of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" on children's aggression and pro-social behavior. Presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN.

Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook, 1996. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker.

Center for Communication & Social Policy, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1997. National Television Violence Study 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Donnerstein, Ed; Ron Slaby & Leonard Eron, 1994. The Mass Media and Youth Violence. In J. Murray, E. Rubinstein & G. Comstock (Eds.), Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response. Vol. 2, pp. 219-250. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996. Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1995. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Gerbner, G; L. Gross, M. Morgan & N. Signorielli, 1986. Living with Television: The Dynamics of the Cultivation Process. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media Effects, pp. 17-41. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Huesmann, L. Rowell 1986. Psychological Processes Promoting the Relation between Exposure to Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior by the Viewer. Journal of Social Issues, 42 (3), 125 140.

Huesmann, L. Rowell & Laurie Miller, 1994. Long-term Effects of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence in Childhood. Pp. 153-186 in Aggressive Behavior. New York: Plenum.

Huesmann, L. Rowell, L.D. Eron, M.M. Lefkowitz & L.O., Walder, 1984. The Stability of Aggression over Time and Generations. Developmental Psychology, 20 (6), 1120-1134.

Huston, Aletha; Edward Donnerstein, Halford Fairchild, Norma Feshbach, Phyllis Karz, John Murray, Eli Rubinstein, Brian Wilcox & Diana Zuckerman, 1992. Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wartella, Ellen, 1995. Media and Problem Behaviours in Young People. In M. Rutter, & D. Smith, (Eds.), Psychosocial Disorders in Young People: Time Trends &Their Origins. Chichester, England: Wiley (pp. 296-323).

Whitney, Charles; Ellen Wartella, Dominic Lasorsa, Wayne Danielson, Adriana Olivarez, Rafael Lopez, Marlies Klijn, 1996. Parr II: Television Violence in "Reality" Programming: University of Texas, Austin, study. Pp. 269-360 in National Television Violence Study, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wilson, Barbara; Dale Kunkel, Dan Linz, James Potter, Ed Donnerstein, Stacy Smith, Eva Blumenthal & Timothy Gray, 1996. Parr I: Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California, Santa Barbara study. Pp. 1-268 in National Television Violence Study, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

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The Nature and Context of Violence on American Television


The goal of this article is to review briefly the largest and most comprehensive assessment of violence on American television in the history of social science research. Funded by the National Cable Television Association in 1994, the $3.5 million dollar National Television Violence Study (NTVS) is a three-year effort to examine the amount and way in which violence is presented across 23 broadcast and cable channels in the United States. To date, the first (1994/95) and second (1995/96) years of research for the NTVS have already been completed.

The study involves a consortium of scholars from four research institutions. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conduct a content analysis of the nature and amount of violence in entertainment programming. The University of Texas at Austin provides a similar analysis of violence in one type of television programming -- reality shows such as tabloid news, talk shows, documentaries, and police programs. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, analyze the role of violence ratings and advisories used on television, including their effect on the viewing decisions of parents and children. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducts studies on the effectiveness of anti-violence public service announcements and educational initiatives produced by the television industry.

Only a portion of the 1995/96 content analysis of entertainment programming conducted by the researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is reviewed in this article [1]. A comprehensive version of the year 1 or year 2 UCSB report, as well as the reports from the other research sites, can be found in the NTVS scientific papers (National Television Violence Study, 1997, 1998). This article is divided into four major sections. In the first section, the foundations of the content analysis are reviewed. In the second section, the methods employed in the study are delineated. The third section features the results from the second year of the UCSB study. And finally, the last section contains several recommendations regarding the portrayal of violence for the television industry, policy makers, and parents.

Foundations of research

In first approaching this research project, we conducted an exhaustive review of the collective body of scientific knowledge assessing the effects of televised violence on the audience. After reviewing all of the existing evidence, we reached the four following conclusions, which represent the key assumptions underlying our research:

Foundation 1: Television violence contributes to antisocial effects on viewers

Our conclusion that violence on television contributes to negative effects on viewers is hardly novel. That same conclusion has already been reached by virtually every major group or agency that has investigated the topic. The American Psychological Association (1993), the American Medical Association (1996), the Centers for Disease Control (1991), the National Academy of Science (1993), the National Institute of Mental Health (1982), and the U.S. Surgeon General (1972), among others, have all agreed that viewing TV violence can have a number of adverse effects on children and even on adults.

Foundation 2: There are three primary types of effects from viewing televised violence:

• Learning aggressive attitudes and behaviors
• Desensitization to violence
• Increased fear of being victimized by violence.

Research clearly shows that television violence contributes to aggressive behavior in children, and that this effect can last into adulthood. One study, for example, found that exposure to television violence at age 8 helped to predict criminal behavior in a sample of adults (Huesmann, 1986; Huesmann & Eron, 1986). Recent opinion polls suggest that most adults now recognize that televised violence can teach aggressive attitudes and behaviors to young viewers (Lacayo, 1995).

There are, however, other types of effects that have received less attention. Research demonstrates that repeated exposure to TV violence can cause viewers to become more callous, or desensitized, to the harmfulness of violent behavior (Linz, Donnerstein, & Penrod, 1988). In addition, long-term exposure to violent portrayals can increase people's fears about real-world violence (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994). That is, people who watch a lot of televised violence show exaggerated fear of being attacked by a violent assailant. Although these three types of effects are very different in nature, they all deserve attention from parents, policy-makers, and the television industry.

Foundation 3: Not all violence poses the same degree of risk of these harmful effects

It is well established by social science research that exposure to televised violence contributes to a range of anti-social effects on many viewers. But the effects from viewing violence are not uniform across all possible examples of violent depictions.

Obviously, there is a vast array of approaches to presenting violent material. In terms of its visual presentation, the violence may occur on screen and be shown graphically, or it may occur off screen but be clearly implied. Violent acts may be shown close up or at a distance. There are also differences in the scripting of the characters who commit violent acts and their reasons for doing so. Differences also exist in the depiction of the results of violence, including both the pain and suffering of victims as well as the outcomes for the perpetrator. Simply put, not all portrayals of violence are the same; they vary in important ways.

Studies show that the way in which violence is presented helps to determine whether a portrayal might be harmful to viewers. Some features of violence increase the risk of a harmful effect, whereas others decrease that risk. In order to evaluate violence on television, then, we must look at the contextual features of different portrayals. Based on an extensive review of all the studies in this area (see Wilson et al., 1997, for complete review), we identified nine specific contextual features that influence how audiences will respond to television violence (see Table I). Each one of these contextual elements is reviewed below.

Table 1. Predicted Impact of Contextual Factors on Three Outcomes of Exposure to Media Violence
Outcomes of media Violence

▲ = likely to increase the outcome
▼ = likely to decrease the outcome
Note: Predicted effects are based on review of social science research on contextual features of violence. Blank spaces indicate that there is inadequate research to make a prediction.
Source: "Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California, Santa Barbara Study" by
Wilson et al. (1998), National Television Violence Study 2, p. 14. Copyright 1998 by Sage Publications.
Reprinted with permission of the authors.

Nature of the perpetrator:

The first contextual feature is the nature of the perpetrator. Different types of characters use violence on television. Studies show that viewers of all ages are more likely to emulate and learn from characters who are perceived as attractive (see Bandura, 1986, 1994). Thus, a perpetrator of violence who is attractive or engaging is likely to be a more potent role model for viewers than is a neutral or unattractive character. Certain characteristics of perpetrators increase their attractiveness. Studies suggest that viewers assign more positive ratings to those characters who act prosocially (e.g., benevolently, heroic) than to those who are cruel (Hoffner & Cantor, 1985; Zillmann & Cantor, 1977). Moreover, research reveals that children as young as 4 years of age can distinguish between prototypically good and bad characters in a television program (Berndt & Berndt, 1975; Liss, Reinhardt, & Fredriksen, 1983).

Nature of the victim:

The second contextual feature is the nature of the victim. Just as the perpetrator is an important contextual feature of violence, so is the target. The nature of the victim is most likely to influence audience fear rather than learning, however. Studies show that viewers feel concern for characters who are perceived as attractive and often share such characters' emotional experiences (Zillmann, 1980, 1991). This type of empathetic responding has been found with characters who are benevolent or heroic (Comisky & Bryant, 1982; Zillmann & Cantor, 1977), as well as characters who are perceived similar to the viewer (Feshbach & Roe, 1968; Tannenbaum & Gaer, 1965). Thus, a well-liked character can encourage audience involvement. When such a character is threatened or attacked in a violent scene, viewers are likely to experience increased anxiety and fear.

Reason for violence:

The third contextual feature is the character's reason or motive for the violence. Viewers interpret an act of violence differently depending on a character's motives for engaging in such behavior. Certain motives like self-defense or protecting a loved one can make physical aggression seem justified. Studies show that justified violence increases the chance that viewers will learn aggression because such portrayals legitimize or sanction such behavior (Berkowitz & Geen, 1967; Berkowitz & Rawlings, 1963; Geen & Stonner, 1973). In contrast, violence that is undeserved or purely malicious decreases the risk of imitation or learning of aggression (Berkowitz & Powers, 1979; Geen, 1981).

Weapon used:

The fourth context variable is the use of weapons. Characters can use their own physical strength to enact violence against a victim or they can use some type of weapon. Conventional weapons like guns and knives can increase viewer aggression because such devices often trigger the memory of past violent events and behaviors (Berkowitz, 1984, 1990). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 56 published experiments found that the presence of weapons, either pictorially or in the natural environment, significantly enhanced aggression among angered and nonangered subjects (Carlson, Marcus-Newhall, & Miller, 1990). This type of priming effect is less likely to occur with novel or unconventional weapons such as a chair or a lead pipe.

Extensiveness/ graphicness:

The fifth contextual feature is the extensiveness/graphicness of the violence. Television programs and especially movies vary widely in the extent and graphicness of the violence they contain. A violent incident between a perpetrator and a victim can last only a few seconds and be shot from a distance or it can persist for several minutes and involve many close-up views of the action. Research indicates that extensive or repeated violence can increase desensitization, learning, and fear in viewers (Huesmann, 1986; Linz, Donnerstein, & Penrod, 1988; Ogles & Hoffner, 1987).


The realism of the violence is the sixth contextual feature. Portrayals of violence that seem realistic are more likely to encourage aggression in viewers than are unrealistic scenes (Atkin, 1983; Geen, 1975; Thomas & Tell, 1974). Realistic depictions of brutality also can increase viewers' fear (Geen, 1975; Geen & Rakosky, 1975). However, this does not mean that cartoon or fantasy violence on television is harmless. Research shows that children under the age of 7 have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy on television (Morison & Gardner, 1978). In other words, what seems unrealistic to a mature viewer may appear to be quite real to a younger child. This helps to explain why younger children will readily imitate violent cartoon characters.

Rewards and punishments:

The next contextual feature is rewards and punishments. Violence that is glamorized or rewarded poses a risk for viewers, but so does violence that simply goes unpunished. Studies show that rewarded violence or violence that is not overtly punished encourages the learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors (Bandura, 1965; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963; Paik & Comstock, 1994). In contrast, portrayals of punished violence can decrease the chances that viewers will learn aggression. Rewards and punishments can influence audience fear as well. Viewers who watch violence go unpunished are more anxious and more pessimistic about the consequences of real-life violence (Bryant, Carveth, & Brown, 1981).

Consequences of violence:

Another important contextual feature involves the consequences of violence. Numerous studies indicate that showing the serious harm and pain that occurs from violence can discourage viewers from imitating or learning aggression (Baron, 1971 a, 1971 b; Goransen, 1969; Sanders & Baron, 1975; Wotring & Greenberg, 1973). The assumption here is that cries of pain evoke sympathy and remind the viewer of social norms against aggression.


The last contextual feature is humor. Viewers interpret violence that is cast in a humorous light as less devastating and less harmful (Gunter, 1985). Humor also may seem like a reward for violence. For these reasons, the presence of humor in a violent scene can increase the chances that viewers will imitate or learn aggression from such a portrayal. Indeed, studies have revealed that exposure to violence in a humorous setting increases aggressive behavior (Baron, 1978; Berkowitz, 1970). Humor can also desensitize viewers to the seriousness of violence (Jablonski & Zillmann, 1995).

Foundation 4: Not all viewers are affected by violence in the same way

In their viewing of television violence, both children and adults are influenced by the contextual features described above. To illustrate, rewarded violence increases the likelihood of learning aggression regardless of the age of the viewer, whereas punished violence decreases that risk. Nevertheless, some unique concerns arise when we think about young children, particularly those under the age of 7.

Because young children's cognitive abilities are still developing, they often interpret television messages differently from mature viewers (see Wilson et al., 1997, for complete review). For instance, the ability to understand the difference between reality and fantasy emerges gradually over the course of a child's development (Morison & Gardner, 1978; Taylor & Howell, 1973). As a result, younger children are more likely to perceive fantasy and cartoon violence as realistic, making this type of content more problematic for young ages.

In addition, younger children are less capable of linking scenes together to make sense of events that occur at different points in a program (see Collins, 1983). Therefore, if punishment for violence is delayed until the end of the program, this deterrent may go unnoticed by a young child. Punishment or any other contextual feature must occur in the same scene in order for a younger viewer to connect it to the original violent behavior.

These differences in cognitive ability mean that not all viewers will be affected in the same way by a violent portrayal. Children below the age of 7 may be especially vulnerable because they cannot easily discount fantasy violence as unreal and have trouble connecting events in the plot unless they are in the same scene. It is important to consider the age of the viewer when thinking about the harmful effects of television violence.

To summarize, several important ideas provide the foundations for this research. Based on an extensive body of evidence, we know that exposure to television can contribute to: (1) learning aggressive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, (2) becoming desensitized to the seriousness of violence, and (3) feeling frightened of becoming a victim of real-life violence. Research was also reviewed documenting that not all violence on television poses the same risk. Some contextual features can increase the risk of harmful effects whereas other features can actually decrease the likelihood of such outcomes. Finally, the risks associated with television violence depend not only on the nature of the portrayal but also on the nature of the audience. Younger children are more vulnerable to certain types of depictions because of their limited abilities to make sense of television.


Given the four foundations reviewed above, the goal of the UCSB study was to measure violence across the entire landscape of U.S. television. In the second year of the study, we examined the nature and the amount of violent depictions during the 1995/96 viewing season. Our emphasis is on the contextual features of violence that either increase or decrease the risk of learning aggression, fear, or desensitization. In the section that follows, the methods employed in the study are delineated. More precisely, the sample, definition of violence, the units of analysis, contextual variables, and training and reliability of coders are explicated in the section below.


A total of 3,235 programs were randomly sampled from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. across 23 channels from October 1995 to June of 1996 to build a composite week of television programming for each source. The 23 channels were comprised of the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox), broadcast independents (KCAL, KCOP, KTTV) , public broadcasting network (PBS), basic cable (A&E, AMC, Cartoon Network, Disney, Family Channel, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, TNT, USA, VH-l, and MTV), and premium cable (Cinemax, HBO, Showtime). All programs in the sample were aired and taped in the Los Angeles market. A total of 15% (N = 478) of the programs were religious programs, game shows, infomercials, instructional shows, or breaking news. Per the NTVS contract with the National Cable Television Association, these five types of programs were sampled and included in the representative week of television programming but were not coded or assessed for violence. Thus, a total of 2,757 programs were assessed for violence in this study.

Definition of violence

The fundamental definition of violence places emphasis on a number of elements including intention to harm, the physical nature of harm, and the involvement of animate beings. More precisely, violence is defined as "any overt depiction of a credible threat of physical force or the actual use of such force intended to physically harm an animate being or group of beings. Violence also includes certain depictions of physically harmful consequences against an animate being or group that occurs as a result of unseen violent means". Based upon this definition, there are three primary types of violence: credible threats, behavioral acts, and harmful consequences.

Units of analysis & contextual features

Violence is measured at three distinct levels or units of analysis. First, we identify each violent incident, or interaction between a perpetrator and a victim. Second, we analyzed each violent scene, or instance of ongoing, uninterrupted violence. A violent scene, such as a bar fight, often contains several violent incidents between different types of characters. Finally, we analyzed the violence at the end of the entire violent program. Examining violence at the program level allows us to differentiate the way aggression is portrayed in a historical film such as Schindler's List from an action adventure movie such as Terminator 2, which both contain roughly equal amounts of violence but the message or use of violence in these two cinematic pieces is drastically different. By measuring the context of violence at all three of these levels we provide rich and thorough information about the meaning or context of violence in television programming.

Contextual features were assessed at the level most sensitive to capturing the nature or way in which violence is portrayed on television. At the incident level, we assessed variables such as the nature of the perpetrator and target, the reason for the violence, the means or weapons used, and the immediate consequences of violence (i.e., harm/pain). At the scene level, the presence of humor, rewards/punishments, and the extensiveness/graphicness of violence was measured. And at the end of each violent program, the presence of an anti-violence theme, the duration of harm/pain portrayed, the punishments delivered to all good/bad characters, and the realism of the violence was measured.

Coding and reliability

Many precautions were taken to ensure that a consistent standard of judgment was used to evaluate the television programming in the sample. An elaborate codebook was developed to provide detailed and precise definitions of terms and rules of judgment for coders to follow. We trained more than 50 undergraduate research assistants to become thoroughly adept at applying the rules laid out in the codebook. The research assistants received 60 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of laboratory practice in making coding judgments prior to beginning coding programs for this study.

Coders worked individually in quiet labs as they assessed programs for violence. Every two weeks, each coder was tested to make sure the same rules and definitions were used across individuals. Agreement or reliability among the coders was consistently high throughout the coding process, underscoring the scientific rigor of the study.


As noted above, the goal of the second year study was to assess the amount and context of violence on U.S. television during the 1995/96 season. In addition to studying television overall, we also looked at variability in the portrayal of violence across different types of channels (broadcast networks, independent broadcast, public broadcast, basic cable, and premium cable), and in different genres of programming (children's, comedy, drama, movies, music videos, reality-based). We also assessed whether the profile of violence on television has changed from the first year of the study (1994/95) to the second year (1995/96). In the section that follows, the major findings from the study are reviewed.

There has been no meaningful change in violence on television since 1994/95.

Neither the overall prevalence of violence nor the way in which violence is presented has changed appreciably during the last year. In the first year of this study (1994/95), 58% of programs contained violence. In the second year (1995/96), 61% of programs contain violence (see Figure 1). This small difference does not represent a significant shift, according to the standards of change used in this study. Thus, the prevalence of violence on television has not increased or decreased meaningfully from Year 1 to Year 2. It is important to note that these statistics do not reveal the nature or extent of violence in television programs; rather, they indicate only that some violence occurs within these shows.

A separate analysis of the different channel types shows remarkable stability as well, with one exception. The percentage of programs with violence on the broadcast networks has increased slightly from 47% to 54%. This small increase holds up even when we examine only prime-time programming on the broadcast networks. Though showing no significant change from Year 1 (85%) to Year 2 (86%), premium cable channels continue to have the highest proportion of programs with violence.

We also found that the way in which violence is presented has not changed from 1994/95 to 1995/96. For example, violence still typically involves extensive violent action, often includes a gun, is trivialized by humor, but seldom is graphic or gory (see Figure 1). These patterns characterize the entire television landscape, and for the most part, also hold true across different types of channels and genres of programming. This extraordinary degree of consistency shows that there are very stable formulas or patterns for depicting violence on television.

Violence on television is still frequently glamorized

Good characters frequently are the perpetrators of aggression on TV. A full 40% of the violent incidents are initiated by characters who have good qualities that make them attractive role models to viewers. Not only are attractive characters often violent, but physical aggression is frequently condoned. More than one third (37%) of violent programs feature "bad" characters who are never or rarely punished anywhere in the plot; another 28% contain bad characters who are punished only at the end of the story. Good characters hardly ever experience repercussions (i.e., regret, criticism) for violence on television. Finally, 75% of violent scenes contain no form of punishment for the aggression. That is, perpetrators rarely show remorse at the time they engage in aggression, and are seldom condemned by others or immediately apprehended. This is of particular concern for younger children, who often lack the capability to link punishments shown later in a program to earlier violent acts.

This glamorization of violence poses risks for the audience. Studies show that children will imitate violent characters who are heroic or attractive (Liss et al., 1983). In addition, viewers are more likely to learn aggressive attitudes and behaviors from violence that is rewarded or implicitly condoned than from violence that is clearly punished (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).

Figure 1. Overall Industry Averages: Year 1 vs. Year 2 Comparisons

% of Programs with Violence
% with an Anti-Violence Theme
% that show Long-Term Negative Consequences
% with Violence in Realistic Settings
% with Unpunished Violence
% with Blood and Gore
% with Humor
% that show No Pain
% that depict Harm Unrealistically
% with use of a Gun
% with Repeated Behavioral Violence
Perpetrators Who are Attractive

Source: Adapted from 'Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California. Santa Barbara Study" by Wilson et al. (1998), National Television Violence Study 2. p. 158. Copyright 1998 by Sage Publications. Reprinted with permission of the authors.

Most violence on television remains sanitized.

Violence is typically shown with little or no harm to the victim. In fact, more than half of the violent incidents (55%) on television depict no physical injury or pain to the victim. Looking across the entire program, only 13% of violent shows portray the long-term negative consequences of violence such as physical and psychological suffering.

Research indicates that showing the realistic consequences of violence, such as pain cues and suffering, can decrease the chances that viewers will learn aggression from television violence (Baron 1971a, 1971 b; Wotring & Greenberg, 1973). Therefore, sterilized portrayals of violence pose risk for the audience.

There are still very few programs that feature an anti-violence theme.

Rather than showing violence merely to excite or entertain, a program can feature violence in a way that discourages it. The overall message in such a program is actually an anti-violence one. This study identified four ways in which a program can emphasize an anti-violence theme: (l) alternatives to physical aggression are presented and discussed; (2) pain and suffering from violence are depicted throughout the plot, especially with regard to the victims' families, friends, and community; (3) the main characters repeatedly show reluctance or remorse for committing acts of violence; and (4) on balance, violence is punished far more than it is rewarded.

Only 4% of the violent programs on television convey an overall anti-violence theme. In other words, violence is seldom used in an educational way to emphasize the personal and social costs of such antisocial behavior.

Portrayals that have a high risk of teaching aggression to children under 7 are concentrated in the very programs and channels targeted to young viewers.

Certain depictions can be labeled "high risk" because several plot elements that encourage aggression are all featured in one scene. These high-risk portrayals involve: (1) a perpetrator who is attractive; (2) violence that seems justified; (3) violence that goes unpunished (no remorse, criticism, or penalty); (4) minimal consequences to the victims; and (5) violence that seems realistic to the viewer. It should be noted that what is perceived as "realistic", and therefore what qualifies as "high risk", differs according to the age of the viewer.

In a typical week of television, there are over 800 violent portrayals that qualify as high risk for children under 7. Where are these hazardous portrayals located on television? Of all genres, children's programs contain the greatest number of these high-risk violent portrayals (N = 409). In other words, most of the portrayals that pose particular concern for teaching aggressive attitudes and behaviors to young children are contained in the very programs that are targeted to young viewers. Furthermore, nearly all of the children's programs that contain these kinds of portrayals are cartoons.

Of all channel types, child-oriented basic cable (Cartoon Network, Disney, and Nickelodeon) contains the most high-risk portrayals for young viewers. The individual channels and time periods that primarily feature cartoons are most responsible for this finding. However, it should be noted that not all cartoons contain high-risk portrayals. Adults often assume that violent cartoons are not a problem for children because the content is so unrealistic. However, this assumption is directly contradicted by research on the effects of viewing violence by younger children. Numerous studies show that animated programs have the potential of increasing aggressive behavior in young children (Hapkiewicz, 1979). Thus, violent cartoons should not be regarded as harmless, particularly for children under 7 years of age who have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.

For older children and teens, high-risk portrayals that encourage aggression are found mostly in movies and dramas.

A similar formula poses a high risk of teaching and reinforcing aggression among older viewers: an attractive perpetrator who engages in justified violence that goes unpunished, that shows minimal consequences, and that seems realistic. Unlike younger children, older children and adolescents are capable of discounting portrayals of violence that are highly fantastic, such as cartoons. Thus, older viewers are susceptible primarily to more realistic portrayals of violence.

In a typical week, there are nearly 400 portrayals of violence that qualify as high risk for older children and adolescents. Movies and drama programs are the two genres most likely to contain high-risk portrayals for older children and teens.


The recommendations offered here follow from the findings of the 1995/96 content analysis of violence on American television. These recommendations were designed to address three specific audiences in the United States: the television industry, public policy-makers, and parents. However, each of these recommendations can also be applied to International audiences concerned about the harm that exposure to certain types of violent television portrayals may have on viewers.

For the television industry

• Produce more programs that avoid violence; if a program does contain violence, keep the number of violent incidents low.

We do not advocate that all violence be eliminated from television, nor do we profess to know exactly how much is "too much." But we do know that the overall amount of violence on American television has not changed appreciably from 1994/95 to 1995/ 96. It is still the case that more than half (61 %) the programs in a composite week of TV contain some violence. Furthermore, most programs with violence feature numerous violent incidents rather than a single scene. Our recommendation is to begin efforts to cut back.

• Be creative in showing:
o violent acts being punished,
o more negative consequences, both short-term and long-term, for violence,
o more alternatives to the use of violence in solving problems,
o less justification for violent actions.

This recommendation recognizes that not all violence is the same, that some portrayals pose more risk to the audience than others. Conveying the message that violence gets punished, that it is not always justified, that there are alternatives to aggression, and that violence causes serious consequences (i.e., pain and suffering) for the victims are all ways to reduce the risk of a negative influence on viewers. We encourage producers to move beyond the "old formula" where violence is presented as a defensible course of action to solve problems, where characters continually get away with such behavior, and where the suffering of victims is seldom shown. Fewer glamorized and sanitized portrayals would significantly reduce the risk for viewers, even if the overall number of violent portrayals were held constant.

• When violence is presented, consider greater emphasis on a strong anti-violence theme.

The use of an anti-violence theme on television continues to be rare. In both Year 1 and Year 2, only 4% of all programs in a typical week employed violence to emphasize an anti-violence message. This is an area where a substantial effort or initiative could make its impact felt clearly and immediately. We encourage the television industry to create more programs that: (1) present alternatives to violent actions throughout the program; (2) show main characters repeatedly discussing the negative consequences of violence; (3) emphasize the physical pain and emotional suffering that results from violence; and (4) show that punishments for violence clearly and consistently outweigh rewards.

For policy makers

• Recognize that context is an essential aspect of television violence and rely on scientific evidence to identify the context features that pose the most risk.

Treating all acts of violence as if they were the same disregards a rich body of scientific knowledge about media effects. An appreciation of key contextual factors is crucial for understanding the impact of televised violence on the audience. Our high-risk composite analysis demonstrates that portrayals that are not necessarily explicit but that present violence as attractive, rewarding, and painless pose a significant threat of increasing children's aggressive behavior. At the base of any policy initiative in this realm is the need to define violence and, assuming that not all violence is to be treated equally, to differentiate types of violent depictions that pose the greatest cause for concern.

• Continue to monitor the nature and extent of violence on television.

Evidence of the harmful effects associated with televised violence is well established. The stakes are high in terms of social implications in this realm not so much because of the effects of viewing any one violent program but more because of the fact that most everyone watches TV, most people watch a lot, and most of television contains violence.

For parents

Perhaps the most important recommendations regarding the harmful effects of viewing violence can be offered to parents. It may take years to alter significantly the profile of violence on television. In contrast, parents can begin immediately to change the way they think about violence on television and the way they make decisions about their children's viewing.

• Be aware of the three risks associated with viewing television violence.

Evidence of the potential harmful effects associated with viewing violence on television is well established. The most troubling of these involves children's learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors. Arguably more pervasive and often underemphasized are the other two risks associated with television violence: fear and desensitization. An appreciation of these three effects will help parents to recognize the role of television in children's socialization.

• Consider the context of violent depictions in making viewing decisions for children.

As demonstrated throughout this article, not all violent portrayals are the same in terms of their impact on the audience. Some depictions pose greater risks for children than others, and some may even be prosocial. When considering a particular program, think about whether violence is rewarded, whether heroes or good characters engage in violence, whether violence appears to be morally condoned, whether the serious negative consequences of violence are avoided, and whether humor is used. These are the types of portrayals that are most harmful.

• Consider a child's developmental level when making viewing decisions.

Throughout this article, we have underscored the importance of the child's developmental level or cognitive ability in making sense of television. Very young children are less able to distinguish fantasy from reality on television. Thus, for preschoolers and younger elementary school children, cartoon violence and fantasy violence cannot be dismissed or exonerated because it is unrealistic. Indeed, younger children identify strongly with superheroes and fantastic cartoon characters, and often learn from and imitate such portrayals. Furthermore, younger children have difficulty connecting non-adjacent scenes together and drawing causal inferences about the plot. Therefore, punishments, pain cues, or serious consequences of violence that are presented later in a plot, well after the violent act, may not be comprehended fully by a young child. For younger viewers, then, it is particularly important that contextual features like punishment and pain be shown within the violent scene, rather than solely at the end of the program.

• Recognize that certain types of violent cartoons pose particularly high risk for young children's learning of aggression.

Our findings suggest that certain animated programs can be particularly problematic for younger viewers. We have identified a type of portrayal that we label "high risk" because it contains an array of elements that encourage the learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors. In particular, a high-risk portrayal for learning is one that features an attractive character who engages in violence that is condoned and that does not result in any serious consequences to the victim. Parents of younger children should closely monitor cartoon programming with an eye for this type of portrayal. Parents of older children and adolescents, on the other hand, should review movies and drama programs because these genres are most likely to contain realistic portrayals of the type defined above that pose high risk for more mature viewers.



1. This article is a shortened version of the UCSB report appearing in the executive summary of the National Television Violence Study (Vol. 2), published by the Center for Communication and Social Policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This synopsis was published with permission of the Center.


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:51 pm


A Review of Research on Media Violence in Japan


People have always expressed concern about influences of media on their own society and especially on children. Among various media, TV is a medium to which strong attention has been paid for a long time.

In the past few years, "TV Violence" or "Media Violence" in a wider sense, including videos and video games, etc., seems to have been discussed more seriously than ever, from wider viewpoints, in more countries, and also as one of the great global issues. It is also one of the current characteristics of the various mass media, including TV, to frequently deal with this topic.

One of the International conferences in communications I attended in 1993 held a special session entitled "Global Television and TV Violence: do we need a code of practice?" organized by the members from Canada, where the negative effects of foreign TV programs have been taken as a serious problem.

With the progress of technology, our society itself has greatly changed in many aspects, including the changes in media environment, and at the same time society has faced difficulties in maintaining both the quality and quantity of its media. The flow of information world-wide has vastly increased, and the International flow of TV programs, including children's programs, has also expanded in many ways.

Recent International surveys and various conferences indicate that many TV producers in various parts of the world worry about the future of TV programs for children under the circumstances of the spread of commercialization of broadcasting and media environment in general. They strongly feel the necessity for some kind of International co-operation aimed at maintaining and developing the quality and diversity of programs for children for the new era.

In this article, I would like to discuss what we need for the future of "children's TV" and "media environment for children" by reviewing the research with particular attention to "Media Violence" in Japan. [1]

Interest in the influence of TV in the early days of TV in Japan

Though the total volume of research related to TV violence in Japan might be relatively small, the topic itself has been regarded as an important issue since the early days of Japanese TV programming. Even before television was introduced in Japan in 1953, concern was expressed about its possible effects on society, especially on the negative effects TV violence could have on children.

In the early days of Japanese television, not only TV facilities, production techniques and TV programs, but also discussions on possible effects of this new medium, were very much influenced by the U.S. in many ways. For example, one Japanese educator who visited the U.S. in 1950 could not ignore the problems faced by U.S. educators and parents because of TV's influence on children's education, though he was very much impressed by the power of TV as a medium of information, and as a result his experience was introduced back in Japan.

Various aspects of TV violence concerns in the U.S. -- including the news that the FCC Chairman had made a strong appeal to ban potentially harmful programs based on research findings, as well as Professor Lazarsfeld's statement that the time had come to conduct scientific studies on the effects of TV on children in 1954 -- were also introduced in the Japanese media. These views caused quite a bit of concern for members of TV and government agencies in Japan.

As for the situation in TV programming in Japan in those days, professional wrestling programs were first broadcast in 1954 and became the first major targets of criticism for their effects on children. Some school children were seriously injured and one even killed, trying to imitate the wrestlers. In 1956, NHK excluded all professional wrestling programs from its broadcast schedule.

However, as commercial TV stations began to offer more mass entertainment over the following years, criticism and general concerns about TV increased. A national conference held by the Central Juvenile Problem Committee of the Prime Minister's Office in May 1958, concluded that the recent rapid increase in juvenile crimes mostly resulted from the negative influence of mass media and warned TV, film and publications industries to exercise better self-control over their contents. By 1960, NHK began to cut violent scenes from TV programs and some objectionable programs were canceled.

Resulting from these conditions, various research on the influence of TV on children, including the following large projects, was conducted from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties:

• NHK's Shizuoka Study (the First and the Second) by NHK Radio and Television Culture Research Institute (I957 and 1959)
• The Ministry of Education Study (a five-year project from 1958)
• National Association of Commercial Broadcasters' Study (a three-year project from 1960), a part of which was known as the University of Tokyo Survey.

These studies focused on various influences of TV as a new medium in Japanese society from a rather wide perspective: both favorable and harmful effects were investigated, including, in an indirect way, questions relating to violence on TV. Overall research results, however, indicated that there was no clear causal relationship between televiewing and aggressiveness of children.

In NHK's Shizuoka Study, for example, which was headed by Dr. Furu and is regarded as one of the four major studies on "TV and Children" along with those by Dr. Himmelweit (U.K.), Dr. Schramm (U.S.), and Dr. Maletzke (West Germany), the research interest was aimed principally at changes in behavior patterns brought about by prolonged exposure to TV. [1]

Changes in daily routine, influence on reading ability and achievements in science and social studies, as well as influence on mental state were analyzed. Regarding character formation, undesirable effects, such as development of passive attitudes or isolation from friends and a tendency toward escape into the world of fantasy, were not seen. When comparisons between heavy-viewing and light-viewing groups were made, it was found that comparatively more time was being taken from the time normally spent for homework and for doing household chores by the children of the heavy viewing group, but no consistent differences were seen in the field of intellectual skills and behavior tendencies. Neither were any significant differences discerned between heavy and light viewers in the tendency toward aggression.

In September 1960, after the 2nd Shizuoka Study, NHK's Research Institute conducted a different type of research to analyze the reactions of children (5th and 8th graders) and adults (parents of the 5th graders) to violence in TV programs, by including viewing of two western films for TV which were regarded as violent. [2]

The results indicated that violent scenes depicted with tools easy to get in daily life, such as knives, ropes, and chairs, were mentioned by parents as scenes they would not like to show their children. The children did not like these scenes, either. The research also indicated that this type of violence gave children a more violent impression and made them more unsettled than violent actions with guns and swords. Similar results were found in one of the studies conducted by the Ministry of Education.

Studies by NHK in those days suggested that the total atmosphere of TV programs could unsettle the children emotionally, even if the frequency of violent acts was not high.

Research trends from the 1960's to the 1970's

The above-mentioned decade starting from around 1955 was called the Golden Age of Studies on "Children and TV" in Japan. [2] The following decade (1965-1975) saw conclusions drawn by a number of researchers from studies on "Children and TV" carried out both in Japan and abroad.

As for the possible negative influences of TV on children, many researchers in those days concluded that there had been no noticeable impact on the intellectual development of children, and no substantial evidence to support the theory that TV viewing encourages passive and escapist tendencies in children. They agreed that other factors such as family environment and basic disposition of children are more responsible for children's aggressiveness, violent actions, and delinquency than the TV programs themselves. [3] Further studies were developed along this line: the 3rd Shizuoka Survey by NHK (1967) was one such study.

At the same time, however, the importance of content analysis of primary stimuli, TV programs in this case, was emphasized as essential to study the effects of media in a scientific manner; though it was also agreed that to develop a detailed framework to describe the characteristics of contents would not be easy at all. [4]

In the meantime, between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, there were various protests against "vulgar" programs. In 1969, one such nonsense/gag variety program by comedians popular in those days became a hot issue in the Broadcaster's Council for Better Programming, which had been established in 1956 to study public reactions to current programs and make recommendations for improvements in the programming of both NHK and commercial broadcasters.

In the same period, two series of superhero dramas with special effects often used to create vivid fighting scenes became extremely popular among Japanese children (boys). Most parents criticized the programs' violence and disliked the grotesque monsters shown in these programs. Imitation of violent actions became popular and tragic incidents took place, despite warning messages such as "Don't kick like this hero does! Don't imitate this jump!" being broadcast. There was also a lot of criticism from leading intellectuals.

However, there were explanations by specialists on child psychology referring to the social context as to why these programs became so popular. According to their analyses, Japanese children, goaded by their environment to study and strive, were given an opportunity to release their own pent-up energy vicariously through scenes of fighting between heroes and monsters and also through a character who could change into a superhero simply by shouting "change!"

In order to develop studies on "the influence of TV on society" under such conditions, emphasis on the analysis of program content became necessary in the next decade.

Content analysis and International comparative studies

Since the latter half of the 1970's, content analysis became popular in media studies in Japan, though not to the same extent as in the U.S.; analysis of portrayal of violence had always been included as an important factor there.

One such example in Japan was a series of analyses conducted by a citizen's group called FCT (Forum for Children's Television). In their analysis in 1982, various types of animated cartoons and drama programs were categorized into "violence by tools, weapons, magical powers", "physical violence", "verbal violence" and "violence to death", and it was found that home-drama-type animation tended to include more "verbal violence" as an essential element. [5]

In 1987, the same organization conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses on 15 action dramas of three types: "Japanese modern", "U.S. modern", and "Japanese historical". According to the analyses, there were quite a number of violent scenes especially "using weapons such as guns/rifles", but a relatively small number of "deaths" on those programs; thus, violence was depicted as unrealistic. So-called justified violence (as experienced by the viewer) was common to most of the programs analyzed, especially in samurai dramas. This study also suggested the importance of music in programs, since music attractive to the young might make even cruelly violent scenes unrealistic and rather attractive. [6]

Since 1977, another important series of content analysis studies involving Japan-U.S. International comparisons have been conducted by Iwao et al. Even before then, it was noted that foreigners, both researchers and broadcasters, visiting Japan had been surprised at the "violence" portrayed on TV and that some exported Japanese animation (especially robot-type cartoons popular in the 1970's in Japan) had been banned because of parents' protests, government decisions, etc., both in Europe and Asia.

Iwao's analysis of 139 dramatized entertainment TV programs broadcast between 5 and 11 p.m. in Tokyo in one week in July 1977 was very important, since it produced data on the amount and depiction of violence on Japanese TV for the first time, and in a way possible to compare with U.S. data by using the method developed by Gerbner. [7]

This study showed that while the amount of violence in these types of TV programs was not noticeably different between Japan and the U.S., the nature of the violence was quite different; Japanese TV portrayed violent actions and consequences more vividly, with much greater emphasis on the suffering of the victims. The researchers pointed out that this factor could lead to the U.S. visitors' impressions that Japanese TV was more violent.

The same study also indicated that violent scenes were concentrated in "police dramas", "cartoons" and "samurai dramas" and that detailed depiction of suffering was most frequently observed in the last category. In typical scenes from samurai dramas, more weight was given to the arousal of sympathy on the part of viewers for the victim, usually a hero rather than a villain. The prevailing theme was one of villains tormenting heroes who win out in the end. All these results suggested that the impression of whether a program was violent or not was largely influenced by how scenes were portrayed rather than the frequency of such scenes.

After the research of 1977, similar analyses were conducted by Iwao et al. every three years until 1989. Results from recent and/or cumulative data introduced some more interesting points. For example, the research showed that programs with high violence received lower audience ratings. [8]

The research covered a total of 585 TV dramas, or a total of 358 hours worth of TV dramas every three years for 12 years. Dramas aired from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on five TV networks (NHK, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, and TV Asahi) were sampled during weeklong sample periods. Sampled dramas were videotaped and coded by trained coders, and divided into four categories: programs, characters, violent behaviors/scenes, and sexual behaviors/scenes. A result indicated a total number of 5,954 violent scenes aired, which makes a total of 16 hours, 26 minutes and 50 seconds. Also one of the findings of the first research in 1977 recorded that 727 characters on TV were injured and 557 characters died. The top ranked type of drama that contained the most violent scenes was Japanese historical (such as samurai) drama, and the same result appeared for every recorded period. Another significant finding was that dramas with many violent scenes tend to be unpopular, which may relate to the fact that the average number of violent scenes aired per program decreased from 6.7 times in 1983 to 4.2 times in 1986.

In another study conducted by the same U.S.-Japanese researchers in 1980 and 1981, International Understanding via TV Programs, the program Shogun was analyzed as part of the study. The results indicated that that drama, whose primary audience targets were U.S. viewers, was better liked than some popular typical U.S. dramas; at the same time, however, they felt the program was rather violent. Especially viewers with a lower education level, with little experience of Japanese culture, tended to perceive this program as more violent. The research concluded that U.S. viewers were not as tolerant of the type of violence depicted in samurai dramas as Japanese were. [9]

Another recent Japan-U.S. joint study of this kind in 1989/1990 indicated that Japanese dramatic programs on TV portrayed violence much more often than did U.S. programs. [10] Mikami's study constructed "a standard index for measuring an important aspect of two cultures, the U.S. and Japan, by analyzing the content of television messages systematically and to compare the index in time-series cross-cultural analysis". Dramatic programs aired from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. for one week on network television (5 Japanese networks and 3 U.S. networks) in both countries were videotaped and coded based on the codebook that was used in the sixteen country Cultural Indicators project.

As a result, 59.4% of the U.S. dramas contained violence as a subject while almost all (97.1%) Japanese dramas included some violence as a subject, which supported the statement made above. Sample television dramas of both countries were compared based on the common techniques of the message system analysis. There were some similarities found such as the characteristics of programs, character traits, and violence profiles. However, many differences between dramas in Japan and the United States were also found. One of the main differences lies in a culturally unique structure in both countries which influences the differences in program content. As an example, a major goal of Japanese characters may reflect a traditional spirit of "self-sacrifice or Giri-Ninjo". On the contrary, personal happiness and intimate relationship were found as tendencies in American characters. Mikami argues that the difference in content as far as violence and sex depiction is a result of different broadcasting policies/regulation in both countries as well; the regulation code seems to be more strict in the U.S. than in Japan.

There is another important study to be mentioned on this occasion. In 1988, AMIC (Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre) launched a research project to study violence on TV in Asia. Eight countries including Japan joined in this project, and this was the first scientific comparative study on this topic within this region, though the portrayal of violence on TV was a subject which had been of great concern not only to the general public and pressure groups but also to broadcasters and governments. Again, the research was based on Gerbner's design. [11][12]

Because of the limited number of programs on some particular TV channels in each country, and because participating countries had rather different backgrounds, the comparison of various data among those eight countries was rather difficult. But there were some interesting and significant results from comparisons of programs produced in Asia and those originating from the West (mostly U.S. programs). Among the samples from this study, foreign programs throughout the eight countries had more violent incidents than local programs in general. More important was the cultural differences in the depiction of violence; some of the significant variations, from the viewpoint of impact on viewers, were depictions of violence in greater detail in the Asian programs and a tendency to glorify suffering of the victims. Heroes in Asian programs suffer violence as much or more than villains. The context of the violence also differs. In Asia violence depicted on TV is mostly caused by personal or interfamilial conflicts and not due to institutional factors as is commonly the case in Western programs.

In Brief Abstract of Violence on Television in Asia by Goonasekera and Yut Kam, the results showed the number of programs and the percentage of the samples of TV programs aired in eight Asian countries. The sample programs are both local programs and foreign programs, of which the countries of origin are also defined in the study. In a comparison of TV violence between programs of Western and Asian origin, the findings of the cultural differences in TV violence are as below:


Western Origin
More violent incidents
Less depiction of suffering victims
Violence depicted in less detail
Sanitized violence. Little or no blood
Both heroes and villains commit violence
Hero suffers less violence than villains
Villains from both upper and lower classes
Violence mostly within social and institutional conflicts
Discourage violence except in cartoons
Universal art form/low cultural discount

Asian Origin
Less violent incidents
Glorification of suffering
Violence depicted in minute derail
Blood commonly shown
Both heroes and villains commit violence
Hero suffers more violence than villains
Villains mostly from upper classes
Violence mostly due to personal vendettas, interfamilial conflict
Discourage violence
Culture-specific programs

Results of long-term panel studies

In the 1980's, there were some important research projects which analyzed long-term effects of TV on children, with various related factors included for analysis.

The first example was a study conducted by a group of researchers affiliated with the National Institute of Mental Health. First in 1983, they tried to analyze the relationship between exposure to TV violence and aggressiveness in pre-school children, by taking their family backgrounds into consideration as important factors. [13]

There was no significant correlation between exposure to violence on TV and aggressiveness in daily life for the children analyzed in this study; however, when the analysis was limited to pre-school children whose parents were not getting along well, some important tendencies were observed. In such discordant families, the more children were exposed to violent programs, the more they were rated as aggressive.

In this research project, cohort analysis was planned from the beginning. Thus, five years later, in 1988-1989, the same set of children at the ages of 9 to 11 and their parents were studied again to analyze the long-term influence of televiewing habits and other factors from their pre-school years. [14]

This research indicated that primary-school-age children tended to watch violent programs when they had stress from unhappy or irritating experiences at home or at school, but there was no evidence that showed effects on children's aggressiveness in daily life. The researchers explained that the catharsis theory could be valid. As for long-term effects, the following was concluded: it is not possible to predict problem activities or anti-social activities at the primary school stage from the degree of exposure to televised violence in the pre-school stage; however, children who were heavy viewers of violent programs when they were pre-schoolers tended to lack the support networks necessary for mental health. Another very important result was that there was a correlation between the children's current aggressiveness and their mothers' tendencies to watch violent programs five years previously.

Another example was a three-year multi panel study conducted by a research group at the University of Tokyo. One of the important aims of this study was to attempt to analyze the influence of TV on pre-school children, in as natural conditions as possible, with a wider notion of independent and dependent variables taken into account. Kindergarten teachers were asked to rate various kinds of children's behaviors including not only aggressive actions, but also basic social knowledge, linguistic ability, play and areas of interest, etc., and mothers were asked to list the TV programs their children watched regularly at home, for three consecutive years. [15]

Though "influence of TV on aggressive actions of children" was only a part of the whole study, a positive cross-lagged correlation between the aggressiveness of the pre-school children in the first year and a preference for "heroic or SF programs (action-adventure cartoons and special effects action dramas)" in the second year was found in their Preliminary Study (1983-85). It was significant only for girls, though positive for boys also. The results of past analyses indicated that aggressiveness caused a preference for violent TV programs, not vice versa. International comparison with the U.S., Sweden and Germany has started, and it is expected that the study will provide enriched analyses and interpretations of the research as a whole. [16]

Other empirical research on TV violence in the 1980's

A series of empirical research studies on TV violence and its influence on children during 1980's was conducted by Sasaki. [17] Past research on the influence of TV violence on children in Japan should be introduced as evidence of the power of media.

In A Review of Empirical Studies on Television Violence (1986), Sasaki adopted and revised four major existing theories of how people are influenced through viewing TV violence:

1) Catharsis, which posits that a vicarious participation in aggression reduces aggressive behavior.

2) Observational learning, by which aggressive behaviors depicted on television are learned and imitated by viewers.

3) Desensitization, through which people become used to violence, and are no longer upset or aroused by witnessing violence.

4) Enculturation, which assumes that a high exposure to television violence contributes to biased conceptions of social reality. [18]

Sasaki (1988) expected that enculturation is likely to occur when viewing TV programs that contain violence in settings which are more realistic and similar to the viewer's life. In order to find out about the relationship between the amount and the type of TV viewing and young viewers' perception of safety in the real world, a sample of 504 junior high school students was studied. The subjects were asked to pick their favorite TV program out of the list that was prepared for this study. The results showed no relation between the amount of TV viewing and the viewers' perception of safety in the real world and of trust in other people. However, some types of programs were found to affect viewers' perception of safety. If a program contains violence in a realistic setting of life similar to the viewers, such as "general dramas" rather than "crime-oriented programs", the viewers tend to learn what to do in case of the dangerous situation. It indicates that whether or not the influence of enculturation takes place depends on the type of TV program. [19]

When analyzing TV violence, it is often questioned which one of the following theories are true: "catharsis theory", according to which violent behavior is reduced by letting out stress through vicarious participation, or "observational learning theory", according to which the viewers imitate aggressive behavior. Sasaki (1989) conducted a study to define "which one of those theories takes place under what kind of situation" and "what kind of TV violence" has caused problems in viewers. The research classified violent TV programs into several categories by employing gratification types. Two types of surveys were conducted to categorize the types of gratification and to classify violent TV programs. The first survey involved 73 junior high-school students and 58 high-school students. The subjects were asked to list up to three programs they often viewed and to write an essay on how they felt after watching them. Thirty-three gratification items were categorized from the essays which were used in the second survey. The subjects sampled, 389 students, were asked to list up to three programs which they often saw and to answer 33 questions on a 5-point-scale. The seven gratification types were: diversion of the mind, identification with characters in the program, acquirement of knowledge, empathy, laughter, longing, and emotional diversion. Three types of violent programs were classified as follows by employing the seven gratification types: moving-violent programs, empathetic-violent programs, and funny-violent programs. The first type of violent program moved viewers and satisfied their knowledge gratification by showing historical facts. However, among the three types of violent programs, observational learning theory was anticipated in the second and the third types, while desensitization to violent behavior was predicted in the third type. [20]

As a follow-up study on the types of violent programs and on the four categories, An Empirical Study of the Typology of Violent Television Programs was conducted in 1993. The researcher intended to clarify the reason for the contradictory theories -- for example, that the catharsis theory suggests that watching violence on TV reduces violent behavior while the observational learning theory suggests that TV violence increases aggressive behavior among viewers. The researcher hypothesized that "the types of effects based on the theory of catharsis, observational learning, desensitization, and cultivation correspond respectively to the types of violent programs based on gratification". A survey of 680 randomly sampled subjects was conducted. The results of this study were based on the 268 mail questionnaires sent back. The factor-analyzed data revealed four types of violent programs: divertive, empathic, intellectually satisfying, and laughter accompanying. The nature of the four types of violent programs were analyzed and it was shown that these types of violent programs correlated to the predicted effects of the four theories of television violence. The catharsis effect was related to divertive violent programs while the observational learning effect correlated with intellectually satisfying violent programs. The desensitization effect was related to laughter accompanying violent programs, and the cultivation effect was related to empathic violent programs. Thus, the researcher's hypothesis was confirmed. [21]

Sasaki and Muto (1987) studied the problem of "ijime (bullying)" among students from the viewpoint of TV violence. Many TV programs featured at least one scene that used ijime as a source of humour. Therefore, according to this fact, it was hypothesized that children who watch more ijime TV programs tend to bully others, and that children learn ways of bullying by viewing those programs more than through any other medium. Also, as the third hypothesis, children who watch many ijime programs tend to be desensitized to bullying behavior. A survey of 977 junior high-school students was conducted. The subjects were divided into a group of frequent viewers and a group of infrequent viewers, and were asked if they had bullied before. Bullying was defined in terms of the nine ways of bullying which were found in the sample of violent programs. The subjects were also asked how they learned their ways of bullying and what they would do if they were to witness a situation of bullying. The results of a chi square test supported the first hypothesis but not the others. The researchers suggested further study of desensitization using more sensitive and accurate measurement strategies. The results also indicated that in the process of learning bullying behavior, personal media as well as mass media seem to function as sources of acquiring bullying methods. The researcher concluded by suggesting that control of the portrayal of bullying behavior on TV is necessary. [22]

Past studies in the U.S. and Europe supported the relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and viewers' level of aggressiveness. Sasaki (1986) conducted a study in order to clarify the relation between the two variables in Japan. A sample of 473 (249 junior high and 224 high school) students were asked to pick up to five programs from 25 violent programs and to answer 20 questions about their daily violent behavior. The results supported the hypotheses. The second purpose of the study was to clarify the relationship between the violence viewed on TV and the viewers' degree of desensitization to violent scenes. The researcher hypothesized that the more TV violence people watch the more used to it they become. The result indicated that there is a positive relation only among senior high school students, which could mean that the longer people are exposed to TV violence the more accustomed to it they become. The third purpose of this study was to find out about the influences of different types of violence on viewers' aggressiveness and on the degree of desensitization. Iwao's three categories of violent television programs -- random violence, purposive violence, and passive violence programs -- were used. The results showed no positive relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and the level of desensitization. However, there was a positive relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and the viewers' aggressiveness. The relationship was stronger when viewing random and passive violence than when viewing purposive violence. [23]

Research by specialists in juvenile delinquency

Research on the influence of media has been conducted not only by media researchers and child psychologists but also by researchers in criminal psychology. Various important studies conducted by the National Research Institute of Police Science cried to analyze relations between access to mass media and various other factors affecting children and delinquency/deviant behavior in juveniles. The researchers had the advantage of being able to include both average children and juvenile delinquents as research subjects. The depiction of delinquency and deviant behavior represented in the mass media -- not only in fictional programs but also in nonfictional programs -- has been focused on recently by researchers.

One such study, conducted in 1983, tried to determine characteristics of high school students who tended to conform to such mass media depictions. Results showed that those students tended to have complaints about family and school life, and had had more experiences of violent actions and/or of being victims. [24]

As a part of a more recent research project on the influence of organized criminal gangs (boryokudan) on juveniles conducted by the same institute in 1991, the juveniles' perceptions of boryokudan represented in the mass media were closely analyzed. The following are the main results from the study. [25]

First of all, mass media was the major source of information on boryokudan for both high school students and delinquents. Sources included both nonfictional reports such as TV news and newspaper articles, and fiction such as TV dramas, movies and novels. In general, average students got their information mainly from nonfictional reports, while delinquents relied more heavily on fictional sources.

Nonfictional reports on boryokudan tend to form negative images of boryokudan as terrifying, selfish, brutal, and so on. Fiction concerning boryokudan, on the other hand, tends to form relatively few negative images which, in some cases, are mixed with rather positive images such as sympathy, having a spirit of unity, and masculinity. Moreover, it is important to note that such fictional depictions tend to be regarded as reality by delinquents.

As for both high school students and delinquents, those who have frequent access to media reports on boryokudan are more likely to form positive images of boryokudan than those who rarely have access to such information. This tendency is more evident in delinquents than in average high school students.

Here again, the cause-and-effect relationship between access to media/depiction of media and unfavorable behavior and attitudes has not been clarified. Researchers in this field seem to be rather cautious about regarding mass media as a cause of juvenile delinquency. On this point, there is a very interesting and important insight by Fujimoto, a specialist in criminology in his paper Can Mass Media Be a Cause of Juvenile Delinquency? [26]

By reviewing the history of juvenile delinquency after W.W.II and countermeasures by government agencies, he pointed out that in each of the three peak periods of juvenile countermeasures by delinquency, mass media popular in each period became the target of criticism: movies in the first peak around 1951, TV in the second peak around 1964, and a variety of media including new types of comics for teens in the third peak around 1983. He hypothesized that it was natural for specialists to pay attention to mass media as a possible influential cause in each period that juvenile delinquency peaked, but that it is difficult to say whether or not those media were causes of juvenile delinquency, because there was not enough time lag between peak times of delinquency and countermeasures actually taken.

Recent research trends: Another boom in media research?

Next, I would like to introduce the most recent trends in research concerning depictions of violence, sex and other unfavorable subjects in the media. Since about 1987, there have been public debates on pornographic comics, video software (especially "horror videos" and "adult videos"), computer-game software (violence, sex), etc, on various occasions.

Government agencies have not only requested self-regulation by the concerned organizations, but have also conducted new research for further discussion and possible countermeasures. As for video software, the seriousness of the issue has been increased since a series of assaults on young girls from 1988 to 1989 was committed by a young adult who possessed nearly 6,000 video tapes including some "horror videos" in his room.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government (which had conducted various studies on children and youth, and on media) conducted a study on videos in 1991 and also on the multi-media environment more generally, with a focus on computers in 1992. The research in 1991 indicated, for example, that heavy video viewers (more than 7 hours per week) had a positive and open-minded tendency, but at the same time were a little more aggressive and unethical than average. According to their parents, those children had inferiority complexes and problem behavior such as delinquency and violence at home. [27]

It was also found through parental observation that children who often watched "horror videos" were uncooperative and aggressive. Children who often viewed "adult videos" seemed to have more problems. They tended to watch them alone in their own rooms late at night. They tended to have various troubles, were more aggressive and unethical, and had more instances of problem behavior and sexually deviant behavior.

One of the important findings of this research was a lack of adult understanding of the seriousness of the problems. For example, parents whose children often watched adult videos regarded their own children as having tendencies toward delinquency, but left their children to view those videos relatively freely. A little more than half of the video shops surveyed in this research answered that horror videos and adult videos had a negative influence on children, but almost no shops had self-regulation on selling or renting this kind of software because of financial considerations.

The Youth Affairs Administration, Management and Coordination Agency of the Prime Minister's Office conducted a nation-wide survey to collect basic data on the media environment surrounding youth in Japan in 1991. In 1992, the same Administration conducted a more specific study on the influence of current media centered on pornographic comics; this is one of the most serious subjects of concern in Japan. [28]

It was found that children who have access to porno-comics tended not only to have sex but also to produce violent and other deviant behavior, and that these tendencies were especially prevalent among junior high students rather than among senior high students. Here again, it was found that parents of those students underevaluated the media situation affecting their children.

Literature review on computer game violence

It has been over a decade since computer games were produced in Japan and introduced to the market that targets children. Although there have been many studies concerning the negative aspects of computer games on children, it was said that computer games play an important role in the formation of media literacy (Yuji and Mori 1995). Computer games may well contribute to and play an important role in the information-oriented society with multimedia. This notion was supported by a study showing that children who use computer games have faster information processing skills (Yuji 1996). The following studies give some insight into the pro's and con's of computer games.

A study on the use of computers among students of age 10 to 15 (primary school and junior high school students) and the influence of computer use on such psychological variables as level of creativity, motivation to achieve, and social development, was conducted by Sakamoto, Hatano and Sakamoto (1992) [29]. The subjects sampled, 663 students, were asked how frequently they use computers; this information was later on compared to indices used to determine social development. The results indicated lower levels of creativity, motivation to achieve, and social development among male students in grade school who play games on computer, while male grade-school students who use computer for word-processing had higher levels of creativity and motivation to achieve. Also male grade-school students who use computers for programming had higher levels of creativity. At the grade-school level, the correlation of frequency of use with these various psychological variables was lower for female students than it was for male students, and male junior high school students who played games on computers had higher levels of cognitive complexity.

Similar to the study conducted by Sakamoto et al., (1992), Sakamoto (1992) conducted research focused on the relationship between the frequency of children's use of video games and some psychological variables, such as social development, aggressiveness, attitude toward war, sociometric status in classroom, and school achievement. As children are in a personality forming stage and are still developing, it is possible that they are easily influenced by the use of video games. It has been said, though not scientifically proven, that children who use video games frequently and who do not often communicate with others would develop their social skills slower than those who do not use video games. By measuring the sample subjects' level of empathy, cognitive complexity, cognitive centrality, and cooperativeness as components of social development, the researcher intended to clarify the relationship between the frequency of children's use of video games and the level of social development. The sample population was 392 children of age 10 to 14 (primary school and junior high school students). The children were divided into two sub-groups in order to distinguish communication level: a group who usually play alone and a group who play with others. The results indicated that male primary school students who used video games frequently had a low level of both social development and school achievement and had a positive attitude toward war. There was no significant difference between children who played video games alone and those who played them with other children. Also, junior high school students who used video games frequently showed a high level of cognitive complexity. The study found that primary school students (male) "who played video games frequently obtained their popularity among classmates through their skills with video games". [30]

Most of the previous studies have focused mainly on the negative aspects and effects of computer games. In order to find out if there are any positive effects of playing computer games, Yuji (1996) conducted a study to assess the relationship between the use of computer games and information-processing skills. As computer games require high parallel information-processing skills and quick reaction times, it is assumed that players' information-processing skills are developed as well. The subjects for this study were a total of 46 (25 boys and 21 girls) kindergartners. The sample was divided into two groups according to the frequency level of their use of computer games. Pictures were used as stimuli to test the subjects' information-processing skills. Stimuli were four combinations of two colors and two shapes of frogs: a big-eyed green frog, a small-eyed green frog, a big-eyed pink frog, and a small-eyed pink frog. After Stimulus 1 was shown in the center of the computer display for two seconds, four patterns of Stimulus 2 appeared on the screen for one second. Then the subjects were tested to omit different colors and shapes from the first stimuli picture as soon and correct as possible. The results indicated that children who play computer games had excellent perceptual skills, motor skills, and information-processing skills. The researcher suggested that further study and comprehensive examination of computer games should be conducted, as such games may play an important role in the information-oriented society with multimedia. [31]

Yuji and Mori (1995) conducted a content analysis of game software. The purpose of this study was to define the content on covers of game packages, to analyze how much violence is included in action game videos, and to study the problem involving gender and aggressiveness. The results showed that most of the existing computer games are male oriented and clearly involve high levels of violence. However, the researcher insisted that there was no relationship between these contents and children who use such software learning about male-female discrimination and becoming more aggressive. The importance of this study can be seen from the point of view of media literacy. That is, the results showed that computer games play an important role in the formation of media literacy. If the male dominating and violence oriented content of computer games results in driving female consumers away, this is a problem which needs to be solved, as the author insisted. [32]

Mori and Yuji (1995) conducted another study with a slightly different perspective from their previous one -- they analyzed the contents of computer games and compared them with those of TV programs. The study showed the existence of TV violence on computer games. The results indicated not only that violence and gender differences in computer games are based on TV programs, but also that the frequency of violent scenes is higher in such games than on TV. [33]

Children's viewing habits and concerns of parents and teachers


Questions addressing what parents and teachers think about the effects of television on children have been included in various ways in many surveys to date. While the largest number of respondents replied that TV has both favorable and unfavorable effects, those who replied "more unfavorable effects" outnumbered those who replied "more favorable effects".

The main concerns of parents are children's imitations of violence, bad language in TV programs and commercials, and possible harm to children's emotional development. But Japanese parents do not seem to be very strict about televiewing habits at home and children are relatively free to choose whatever programs they like and to watch them when they like. [34] [35]

For example, about half of 1-2 year olds take the initiative in turning on the TV and watch without any adult nearly half of their total viewing hours. After reaching age 3 to 4, children tend to watch TV more often by themselves or with other children, rather than with their parents.

Children up to 2 years old watch with great interest various TV programs intended especially for pre-school children; almost all these pre-school programs today are broadcast by NHK, the nation's only public broadcaster. Among these, With Mother (1959-), which is the longest-running children's program in Japan, has been especially popular among Japanese children and parents. (With Mother is similar to BBC's Playschool or Playdays.) Many start watching this program even before their first birthday.

Even infants below one year old show a considerable response to TV; surveys indicate that in the case of infants 4 to 7 months old, more than half show interest in the sounds and pictures of the TV screen, and that infants begin playing with TV sets by switching them on and off as early as the age of 6-7 months, since TV sets nowadays are quite easy to handle. More than one-fourth of 8-9 month olds imitate handclapping and more than half of one-year-olds mimic callisthenics on TV. Furthermore, children between ages 1-1/2 and 2 are seen more and more imitating songs and spoken words heard on TV programs and commercials. [36]

Children past age three become increasingly interested in animated cartoons, SF fantasy dramas with special effects, and variety shows for general audiences mostly broadcast on commercial channels, as their interest in pre-school programs declines. Differences appear around age 3 or 4 in the program preference of boys and girls. (Boys like programs which include actions they can imitate and use later in play with friends, while girls prefer family-type stories.) Role-playing by imitating characters on TV becomes popular at the age of three and four. As for imitating violent actions and vulgar language, 50 percent of children showed at least some such influence from TV. This tendency is stronger among boys, frequent viewers, and also among children whose mothers are rather strict about their children's televiewing. Children in this age group also want to own toys and games, books, stationery or clothes and bags associated with favorite TV characters.

As for family rules about children's TV viewing, in the case of 1-2 year olds, "what to view" is the biggest concern of parents; then as children grow, their parents' concerns move to "total viewing hours a day" and "when to view" rather than program contents. One reason why Japanese parents are not very strict about children's TV viewing can be explained as follows. Since popular programs invariably tend to become the subjects of exchanges (through role-playing, imitating characters, and conversations) among their play group or at school, children who are ignorant about such TV programs often find themselves left out. Parents worry quite seriously that their children will be ignored or treated badly by their friends.


Unfortunately the first impression many people have of Japanese children's TV programs seems to be of animated cartoons and SF dramas often with violent actions and/or vulgar expressions. However, many visitors from other countries are surprised at the existence of other kinds of programs, including a variety of school broadcasting from kindergarten through senior high school levels and also other kinds of quality programs for children's home viewing, including TV Picture Books (stories), Fun with English, I Can Do That Myself (cooking and other how-to topics), Music Fantasy: Dramas (classical music) and News for Children (weekly news magazine for children and parents) provided on both of the NHK's terrestrial TV Channels (General TV and Educational TV), and one of the NHK's two DBS Channels.

As for TV school broadcasting, it started in Japan in 1953. From the very beginning, an organization called the All-Japan Teachers' Federation for Studying the Use of Radio and TV in Education has played an important role, contributing to progress in the effective use of broadcasting and improving the quality of programs, in close co-operation with NHK.

The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute has conducted nationwide School Broadcast Utilization Surveys since 1950. The purpose of the surveys is to get basic data on the dissemination of audio-visual equipment and the use of NHK's radio and TV school broadcasts, and also to evaluate programs through teachers' observation and to study teachers' attitudes towards various media. The data are used as a basis for discussion on the further development of school broadcasting and related materials.

As of 1996-97, 95% of Japan's primary schools were making use of NHK's TV school programs. The rate was 54% for kindergartens and 70% for nursery schools.

Some of the NHK's school broadcasts have been sent to various countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa -- broadcast in their local languages -- with some financial support from Japan in response to requests from these countries. This, however, might not be widely known. Not only programs, but various specialists in producing educational programs have been sent from NHK to these countries to assist in development of their own educational broadcasting.

More than 95% of Japanese children go to either kindergartens or nursery schools before their entrance to primary schools at the age of six. And teachers of kindergartens and nurseries recognize the overall influence of TV on children most frequently; both the positive and negative effects.

One of NHK's surveys in 1996 indicated that in 73% of the kindergartens throughout Japan teachers answered that the children's language deteriorated as a result of their imitating TV vocabulary, 65% reported that children sometimes acted roughly by imitating TV violence -- kick-boxing, professional wrestling, jumping down from high places, imitating gun fights, etc. -- and 56% believed that TV had some harmful effects on the emotional development of children, for example, misunderstanding of the concept of "death". These are all examples from entertainment programs chosen by children themselves and watched at home, often without adults, as already mentioned.

As for television's overall influence on small children, many teachers answered that "there are more bad influences than good". This negative view held by teachers seems to be connected with their reluctance to use TV at kindergartens and nursery schools, and it may well have contributed to the gradual decline in use of educational TV for children since the beginning of the 1980's. Some teachers explained that they do not want to use TV, since children spend quite a lot of time watching TV at home. (Though children's total viewing hours are less than that of the adults as it is in many other countries. According to NHK's survey in 1996, preschool children between 4 and 6 years watched TV for an average of 2 hours and 21 minutes a day, and those in primary school, 2 hours and 13 minutes; the average daily viewing hours for all Japanese over 7 years old was 3 hours and 34 minutes.)

However, there is an obvious difference between the programs children choose to watch on their own at home and those used at kindergartens and nursery schools under the guidance of teachers. Considering the fact that this gap widens as children grow older, and that proper discipline regarding TV viewing is generally not given strongly at home, kindergartens and nursery schools could have an important role in education about media, by helping children cultivate a more selective attitude towards TV and various other media, including videos and video games. [37]

Further development of research

As various studies have already indicated, it is very difficult to explain clear-cut "cause-and effect" relations between exposure to violence in the media and aggressiveness of children in real-life. Even so, it is important to further develop research on "multiple effects of media violence on our society" with more sophisticated and newer approaches and methods, especially under circumstances where the portrayal of various kinds of violence and other unfavorable subjects have been increasing and seem to be becoming more and more vivid, not only on TV but also in many other media such as video software, video games, comics, cinema, etc. In this context, as a researcher in the area "Children and Media", I am particularly interested in the following three aspects.

Research on "media violence"

The first is the importance of more precise analysis of "the possibility of different effects of media violence in different cultures". Though there have been some studies in this area so far, we still need more precise and deep analysis.

There seem to be types of violent expression which can be understood and felt in a similar way in most societies around the world. However, there seem to be other types of violence, as well, that is "violence" which is felt and understood quite differently depending on the viewers' culture. In other words, some particular depictions which are acceptable to one society might be seen as too violent in another society. Moreover, children and adults in each culture might have different perceptions and attitudes.

From my own experience through discussions with researchers from various countries, I feel the necessity for a scientific analysis on this point. By analyzing various reactions of both children and adults to the same TV programs in societies with different cultural backgrounds (and also International experiences), we would be able to learn how similarly and differently people perceive the same visuals and show their reactions to "violence" and other depictions in the media. It is, of course, very important to analyze the mechanism of how and to what degree such depictions of violence could affect behavior and attitudes of the viewers, especially children, via a long-term study. This kind of International research could be useful and important not just for discussions on media violence but for International co-operation in media development as a whole, including effective exchanges of TV programs and ideas related to children's use of media. [38]
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:53 pm


Emphasis on the positive aspects of the media

My second point is the necessity for emphasis on the positive aspects of the media; that is, the importance of development of research and related activities to create and widely distribute TV programs and video software, etc., favorable for and attractive to the viewers, especially to children. I have been working along these lines at NHK's Research Institute, and this approach was one of the characteristics of research on "Children and Media" throughout the 1980's in Japan. [39]

We have been studying both TV programs and children's reactions to programs in various ways to give helpful data to our producers for improvement of current programs and also for development of new programs. Various programs of NHK's School Broadcasting already introduced have been developed based on many kinds of studies. Many other studies, especially for young children, have been conducted by the Research Project on TV (Media) Programming for Two-Year-Olds since 1978.

This project requires the co-operation of TV producers of NHK, media researchers such as myself, and specialists in various fields such as developmental psychology and pedagogy, etc., and attempts primarily to develop quality programs for young children between 2 and 4 years who are the heaviest viewers among children in Japan and who are also at the most important stage in learning viewing habits. The researchers have adopted the method of viewing-experiments with a distracter. These studies are carried out in an experimental room using test-produced programs, and involve analysis of various reactions of children (such as viewing attention, verbal reactions, and various non-verbal reactions). [40][41]

With support from the studies within this project, various new programs have been developed for young children. When a new Yoga calisthenics segment was planned to be introduced in With Mother, NHK's pre-school daily series, eight segments were produced under different conditions: performers, variety and number of Yoga poses, amount of instruction, etc. The responses of 2-year-old children to each segment were recorded and analyzed, and several suggestions were given to the producers: the smaller the number of poses, the more the children tended to watch the segment. Children showed more imitation if they were given more instruction. "Talking to viewers" instruction was positively correlated with imitation by children. As a result, improvements were achieved for the final production of a Yoga segment called Hi, Pose for broadcasting. According to another study conducted after the start of broadcasting of this newly developed segment, imitating the movements of this segment was most popular among children age 2 to 2-1/2, the core target audience.

Another good example is the one-minute animation series Kids Like Us which was also introduced as a part of With Mother. In this case, the members of the research project began working to develop this new idea, based on the research results from a wide range of earlier studies. After much discussion, it was decided to produce various characters reflecting typical traits and behavior of children between 2 and 3 years old (such as tendencies to be hard-to-please, mischievous, untidy, gluttonous, forgetful, etc.) and each segment features understandable, simple stories, just one or two minutes long.

The purpose of this animation was to let children watch these characters repeatedly, in various different stories, then reflect on their own behavior, and also learn the fact that there are various types of people in our society. One important decision was not to give comments such as "Don't do this" or "Do this", since it is important for children in this age group to learn how to judge their own behavior.

The experiment as a formative research was conducted with the same method for the final production of Kids Like Us. Follow-up surveys held after the start of broadcasting, through mothers' observation of their children's reactions and also observations of some specialists, showed that this new series was achieving the main projected goals. [42]

Though it takes a lot of manpower, a large budget and time to conduct these types of experiments and surveys, it is very important and meaningful, of course, for producers and researchers. Moreover, it is very meaningful to give parents opportunities to think about the quality of TV programs for children through these various studies.

There is another example I would like to introduce. That is an interdisciplinary project focusing on the influence of TV on toddlers, infants and fetuses conducted under leadership of the President of the National Children's Hospital. This project consists of a pediatrics group, a cultural anthropology group and a media research group. It is an especially important feature in this project that many specialist pediatricians have joined the studies on TV.

For example, one of the studies indicates that even infants (8-months old) may recognize pictures on TV in a way similar to adults. In another study, pediatricians discovered a response indicating abnormal behavior in an 18 month old toddler, first by a questionnaire about televiewing habits at home answered by her mother. A follow-up clinical examination revealed that this toddler was hearing-impaired. An observational study was carried out to assess the behavior of handicapped children toward TV in an experimental environment, and a group of pediatricians started thinking about developing new sensory test methods using television.

Though this project paid attention both to the positive and negative effects of TV, the basic approach was to understand the meaning of "watching TV" in today's society and to find out how this medium could effectively be used to benefit mankind. [43] [44]

Importance of education on media

Finally, I would again like to emphasize the importance of education on media. As I have already mentioned, this is, of course, very important for children as a vital step in learning how to watch TV and how to enjoy other media in a way which will benefit them. As children grow older and their understanding of the mechanism of the media deepens, various media can be important tools which children can use to express themselves. It is also very important for adults to understand the newest media environment as a whole both for themselves, and also for giving effective advice to children from various view points: as a parent, as a teacher, as a provider of various software for children.

Concluding remarks

Though analysis and discussion of negative aspects of media is, of course, necessary, I feel strongly that it is equally important to pay attention to positive aspects of the same media, in order to encourage and increase desirable output from each media and thus to make the total media environment around us beneficial to the future of our children.

In this context, various forms of co-operation would become more and more important, including interdisciplinary and International co-operation. There has been a clear trend among members responsible for researching, producing and broadcasting children's programs and educational programs, towards seeking new forms of effective International co-operation in a wider sense now than ever before. [45]

I believe that it is essential to think of children's growth, education and media development not in terms of one nation or society, but rather from a global viewpoint, in terms of the future of all humanity. With so many countries now paying special attention to "Media Violence", it is my wish that those concerned utilize this "trend" and think of it as a wonderful chance for us to work in harmony to reach a favorable solution which will put an end to the problem once and for all, and at the same time enhance the often neglected positive side of media as a whole.

Several researchers in the past have said that the Japanese society tends to react according to a catharsis theory more than other cultures in the world, thinking of the fact that Japan has a relatively low crime rate and at the same time a large amount of violent media contents, at least so far. There is no scientific proof of the theory yet. It could be that the Japanese tend to relieve their stress by watching aggressive TV programs and by playing violent video games. However, it was also mentioned earlier, that the "violence" in the Japanese dramas is often followed by scenes showing the after-effects of victims and the process of their suffering, something which may decrease the tendency towards aggressive attitudes and behaviors among the Japanese viewers.

Many of the past studies have found the power of media to be a source of negative influence. However, if the effects of media are so strong, it is possible that the media could be used for something positive. Researchers should place more emphasis on how to make positive use of the power of media for children in the future.

A future study needs to be conducted with an emphasis on the possibility that cultural differences, and differences in individual experience, play a role as factors which determine the perception of "violence" (in the real world and in the media). Findings from such a study might be beneficial for future TV program productions and exchanges. Past International studies on TV violence, in which Japan also took part, proved that there are different characteristics in violent scenes between Japan and the U.S. and among other Asian programs. As regards how we perceive such violent scenes, research suggests that there is an existing disparity due to cultural difference and cross-cultural experience/understanding.

Growing International concern about the nature of children's rights prompted the organization of the Japan Prize Contest to hold a symposium entitled "Listen to Children -- Children's Rights and Television" in November 1996. (Japan Prize is an International contest for educational programs established in 1965 and organized by NHK.) There were quite a number of programs from different parts of the world entered in the Contest that dealt with children's rights from various viewpoints, such as child abuse, peer pressure, bullying, children in poverty, children in war, and so on. The thrust of the arguments among specialists in educational programs was that children should be made aware of their rights and allowed to have a say in how educational programs both for children and for adults should be produced.

Therefore, I recommend that future media researchers conduct further studies that would encourage the points raised during the symposium, and that the media business people concentrate on positive use of the power of media in order to create more favorable TV (media) environments.



1. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the official views of NHK.

2. In addition to the kinds of studies introduced here, NHK conducted a series of studies on educational programs for children and school broadcasts, by using a program analyzer, primarily to improve those programs but also to develop new ones.


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:58 pm

Children, Media and Aggression: Current Research in Australia and New Zealand


This article offers an overview of recent and current Australian and New Zealand research relating to the topic of children and aggression in the media. We set the terms of our account fairly broadly, to include research addressed to the perennial questions of the effects of overtly aggressive content, as well as the perceptions and responses of the audience (children and parents). We consider also related topics such as the representations of ethnic minority groups in the media, crime programs, and media treatment of sexual abuse. Hence, 'aggression' here includes forms of physical violence as well as symbolic intimidation and oppression. We concentrate mainly on research published since 1990 (and forthcoming), but occasionally touching on earlier work where it is relevant.

Our goal is to illustrate the range of recent research and perspectives. We have not attempted to provide critical evaluations of the research. However, we do offer comments where we believe researchers' findings prompt further investigation and lead to interesting new lines of inquiry. First, we sketch the background with a summary of debates about the media in the two countries. Then, we turn to what we will loosely label 'effects' issues: for example, do young people become more aggressive as a result of viewing aggressive TV content or playing violent computer games? Next, we turn to the consumers themselves, discussing work addressed to children's interpretations and understanding of media content. Finally, we review findings of several projects that relate to parental mediation and intervention.

Research and policy background

There has been a long tradition of interest among Australian and New Zealand researchers in children's and adolescents' responses to television content, including aggressive content (e.g., Edgar, 1977; Hodge & Tripp, 1986; Ling & Thomas, 1986; McCann & Sheehan, 1985; Noble, 1975; Palmer, 1986; Sheehan, 1986; Shuker, 1990). Debate about media content and regulation is healthily vigorous in both countries. In Australia, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, the body charged with classifying most of the audiovisual media marketed in the nation, holds an annual conference in which classification officers, politicians, civil servants, media representatives, academics and others meet to discuss research and policy issues. The Australian Broadcasting Authority, the organisation responsible for developing and monitoring standards of television and radio broadcasting publishes regular newsletters on current issues in these media. Both bodies undertake extensive research into issues relating to media classification, community standards and concerns and patterns of media use (Aisbett, Paterson, & Loncar, 1992; Paterson & Hellmers, 1993; Paterson & Loncar, 1991; Sheldon, Aisbett, & Herd, 1993). In New Zealand, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) undertakes or commissions similar research (Bassett & Shuker, 1993; Watson, 1992, 1993; Watson, Bassett, Lambourne, & Shuker, 1991). The BSA also fosters debate about issues such as aggression in the media (e.g., National Television Violence Seminar Papers, 1991). Recent debates in either or both of the countries have included concern about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the television broadcast of movies with M level violence during midevening, the content of Pay TV, the viability of the 'V' chip, the regulation of computer games, and children's access to adult materials on the Internet.

There is a keen awareness of the principal enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that children have a 'right to be protected from material harmful to them' (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1990a; Abbott, 1992; Biggins, 1995; Griffith, 1996). This priority is acknowledged in the legislation governing the work of bodies such as the ABA, OFLC and BSA. It is promoted by pressure groups such as Young Media Australia, a training and advocacy organisation which publishes Small Screen, a monthly review of events and publications relating to the effects of films, television, video games and new media on children. In New Zealand, there is an array of similar groups and the Mental Health Foundation has conducted an extensive and apparently effective campaign to force public broadcasters to reduce the amount of violence on television (Abbott, 1992).

As in other countries, there are diverse opinions about the influence of violent television content upon young viewers, and about the kinds of responses that policy makers, parents, and professionals should make (Abbott, 1992; Biggins, 1995; Hodge, 1989; Prior, 1995). For example, the Australian College of Paediatrics (I994) has published a clear and strong statement that the sheer quantity of time spent with television indicates that 'television viewing must rate as a critical influence on the development of children', that a regrettable part of this influence is due to the (increasing) violent content, that 'there is a relationship between viewing violent television and aggressiveness' and that '(v)iewing of television violence can also reduce inhibitions against aggression and lead to a belief that solving problems through violenct means is 'normal' and acceptable' (p. 6). Paediatricians, the statement concludes, have a role in bringing the pervasive effects of television to the attention of parents, and in promoting healthier uses of the medium.

On the other hand, there are sceptics. Among these, Hodge (1989) argues forcefully that ideological assumptions about the nature of children (as vulnerable innocents in need of protection or as potentially wicked savages in need of restraint) fuel much of the Australian debate and policy concerning the desirability of certain types of television content. These assumptions are often compounded, he suggests, by middle class elitism in the arena of cultural choices. Hodge argues that the regulation of children's television content can serve to counter the wishes (and hence the rights) of children themselves, by depriving them of programmes they wish to see and inflicting other programmes that arguably well intentioned adults like but many young viewers do not. 'If anyone bothered to listen to what they [children] see and say, it would quite spoil the game' (p. 170).

When members of the public are asked if they have concerns about any aspects of what is currently shown in television, the most common topic, mentioned spontaneously by about 25-30% of the sample, is violence (based on Australian data, reported in Paterson & Loncar, 1991). Concern with violence tends to vary with the age, gender and parental status of the respondent -- older people, women, and parents tend to be more likely to register concern. About 44-47% of respondents indicate that they have no concerns or 'don't know.' Studies of people who complain about television content (either to the ABA or directly to a broadcasting company) confirm that violence is their foremost concern (Aisbett et al., 1992). Audience research indicates widespread community support for classification schemes, generally high awareness of what the classification symbols (e.g., G, PGR, M, R, I etc.) stand for, and frequent reference to the symbols when making viewing decisions (Paterson & Hellmers, 1993).

There is a strong civil libertarian tradition in Australia, and a majority of the community appears to prefer informed consumer choice to censorship of the media. In a large scale study of community attitudes towards the acceptability of 'R' rated content on Pay TV, the ABA found that 82% of respondents agreed that adults should have the option of watching R rated programs, and 69% agreed that R-rated movies provide entertainment which is of interest to many adults and should be available to them. 69% thought that R-rated violence should be permitted in this context. Most (85%) felt that, if R rated programs were to be shown on Pay TV, then it would be important to receive information about them before they were broadcast (Australian Broadcasting Authority, 1994).

In sum, violence in the media is a perennial focus of concern in Australia and New Zealand, as in many other countries. The topic is debated and investigated within a social climate characterised by a wide range of ideological positions, a strong community concern for the well-being of children, and a majority commitment to adult freedom of choice in media use.

Effects: the impact of television and computer game content

Effects studies appear not to be prevalent in contemporary research in Australia and New Zealand. However, there are some exceptions, and there is certainly continuing interest in the issues. We discuss examples here concerning television and computer games.


The media do not operate, of course, in a sociocultural vacuum. Often, messages about aggression are consonant with other values promoted in children's lives or with activities in which they are encouraged to engage (Sanson & Prior, 1989). An obvious example is aggressive toys. These afford children practical means to play-act events and behaviours that may coincide with television content, or even be inspired by it. Furthermore, many of these toys are marketed via children's television, either in overt advertisements or as products associated with specific programs and characters.

Following Huesmann's (1986, 1988) information processing account of the effects of viewing aggressive media, Sanson and Di Muccio (1993) reasoned that exposure to violent cartoons and subsequent play with toys based on the cartoon series should provide children an opportunity to rehearse aggressive scripts derived from or strengthened by the programs. Children aged 4 to 5 years in small mixed gender groups viewed for 21 minutes either an aggressive cartoon or a neutral cartoon, and then played for 15 minutes with either aggressive toys or neutral toys (the toys were commercial products based on the cartoon materials), and for another 15 minutes with the opposite set of toys; other children participated as controls, also playing with the toys but not viewing either of the cartoons.

Several measures of aggressive behaviour and prosocial behaviour were collected prior to viewing (i.e., to establish baselines) and after viewing. The results are complex, and are reported separately for working class and middle class participants. However, they do demonstrate higher levels of aggressive behaviours in children who were both exposed to the violent cartoon and played with aggressive toys; prosocial behaviour was low in these children. The authors are careful to note order effects, gender differences and considerable individual differences among the participants, with a majority of children showing no aggression, and two boys contributing a great deal. They conclude that the results justify public concern about the effects of heavily promoted antisocial toys representing aggressive cartoon characters.

Sanson et al.'s definitions of aggressive behaviour were clear and well operationalised, but one issue which remains open to future research relates to the children's intentions and the severity of their behaviour. The researchers counted the incidences of a range of verbal and physical acts, some of which might well be more aggressive than others (e.g., destroys property vs. boasts or brags), and some could be playful rather than designed to hurt (e.g., wrestling, shooting guns -- we assume these Melbourne preschoolers were only operating toy guns). It would still remain of interest that watching a particular type of television program could promote either or both of 'real' aggression and 'playful' aggression, but it might influence our models of the role of media influences upon aggressive behaviour if we were able to distinguish among these. The Sanson et al. study provides a timely push towards such work as well as a valuable guide to design and measurement issues.

Computer games

There has been considerable interest in Australia and New Zealand in the uses of new media, especially computer games, by young people. In Australia, computer games are classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification following guidelines similar to those employed in the classification of films, with the difference that material which would receive an 'R' in the movies (Restricted to persons over the age of 18) is refused classification in computer games (see Bedford, 1995, for a discussion of adults' rights in this context).

Dutkin (l995a) undertook a commissioned review of the available (International) literature investigating the place of computer games in the lives of contemporary children and adolescents, considering both negative effects (such as 'addiction', learning or encouragement of aggressive behaviour, impairment of family life and school performance, health consequences) and positive effects (such as cognitive and perceptuo-motor skill enhancement, heightened peer interaction, development of familiarity with computers).

Durkin concluded that the research did not justify assumptions of widespread ill effects. Incidence of obsessive involvement in computer game play is low in most surveys of children's leisure time use, and there is little evidence of deleterious consequences for social life or educational progress. On the topic of aggression, Durkin stressed that there were only a small number of studies published (in contrast to the large literature on television and aggression), and that these had yielded weak or inconsistent findings. Some studies pointed to an association between arcade play and aggressiveness, but not between home play and aggressiveness; surprisingly little success had been obtained in experimental studies attempting to find greater aggressiveness following laboratory exposure to violent games. However, Durkin noted that most of this literature was reporting work conducted in America and Britain in the 1980s, and it remains possible that the picture could change in the light of new research and in response to changes in the games themselves (such as greater realism and higher levels of violence). He suggested also that there is a need for research appropriate to the Australian cultural context (for example, Australia scores lower on most indices of real-life violence than the US and this may interact with any influence due to game content).

This report resulted in some debate in the national media. Some commentators have interpreted the literature differently from Durkin, and argued that 'We have no proof of no harm from video games, and we have some proof of harm' (Biggins, 1995, p. 85). Biggins argues that where researchers have failed to find proof of harm, it may be because of general deficiencies in social science research, or of sloppy methodology. Biggins holds also that the parental community is 'ill-equipped to guide and take responsibility for children's access to video games' (p. 89) and therefore favours conservative classification of this medium. Biggins makes the general point that the information superhighway could helpfully be flagged: 'Proceed with caution -- children crossing.'

Most parties to this debate tend to agree that the amount of research available is limited. Since the Durkin (l995a) report, some new Australian research has been completed. Ask, Winefield, and Augostinos (1997) drew on competition-aggression theory to argue that violent video games can elicit aggressive behaviours because of their competitive themes. Essentially, the thesis is that when placed in a competitive situation, people are prone to become angry, hostile and aggressive. The authors propose also, along lines similar to Huesmann and Sanson et al., above, that people may develop from earlier experiences schemas in which competitive environments become associated with particular cognitions, most notably hostile and aggressive patterns of thought. In a preliminary test with high school students, Ask et al. found that children do perceive competitive situations as more aggressive than cooperative situations. The investigators then conducted an experiment with other male and female adolescents in which participants played a video game in pairs, such that some individuals were competing against their partner, and others were cooperating with their partner. The hypothesis was that participants in the more competitive situation should demonstrate more aggressive responses, which were defined here as the proportion of 'kills' of adversaries on screen (computed as the ratio of kills over kills + avoidance responses). Earlier American research by Anderson and Morrow (1995), with college students as participants, had obtained such an effect, though Ask et al. (1997) saw that study as confounded because the participants gained points for 'killing'.

In the Ask et al. (1997) study, the participants were not rewarded with points for killing. The participants' mean kill ratios were virtually identical in the competitive and cooperative situations (.67 and .66, respectively). The researchers also solicited participants' evaluations of their partners, to test the hypothesis that competing against someone was more likely to evoke hostile reactions than cooperating with someone. No difference was obtained. Although these findings might be taken as contradicting the competition-aggression account, Ask et al. note that their participants reported enjoying the game played (Donkey Kong), found it easy and not very frustrating. Hence, the game -- if it is perceived as 'fun' rather than 'battle' -- may not provide an optimal test of the theory. Certainly, it does indicate that aggressive responses are not an inevitable consequence of playing competitive video games.

Ask (1996) reports a variant of the experiment using a more ostensibly aggressive game (Mortal Kombat III), with male high school students as participants (their female peers did not want to play). In this study, participants played initially in a series of trials and then, a week later, took part in a knock-out 'tournament' with financial prizes at stake. The game allows the possibility of aggressive types of moves and nonviolent moves. During the trials, the winners tended to use more violent moves and during the tournament, aggressive moves increased. Ask concludes that participants 'had an inclination to produce violent moves when there was more competition'. He cautions, however, against oversimplistic interpretations that this demonstrates an effect of video games on social behaviour, and points out that the experiment does not test transfer effects (i.e., learning about the efficacy of violence in a game context which is then transferred to 'real life' contexts). His current research is addressed to this issue.

In sum, interest in the effects of violent media content remains an active research area. Studies of children reacting to television and adolescents playing with computer games yield complex but provocative findings, Much remains to be settled about causal relations and about the meaning of aggression in these contexts, but recent studies underline the need for continuing investigation and point to new methodological developments and refinements that could usefully be exploited by other researchers.

Children's perspectives and experiences

A large proportion of recent Australian research has been concerned with aspects of children's experiences of the media, their patterns of use and preferences, their reactions to and their interpretations of media content, This work ranges through the very earliest experiences of television viewing through to the perceptions of school students.

Infants and toddlers

Collaboration between the coordinators of a large scale longitudinal study of emotional development in early childhood (Brent Waters, Judy Ungerer and Bryanne Barnett) and researchers at the Australian Broadcasting Authority (Margaret Cupitt and Daniel Jenkinson) is providing rare data on the television experiences of infants. Although it is well established that contemporary children spend time in the environment of television sets and VCRs from the beginnings of life, research into early responses to these media has been relatively scarce. In this study (Cupitt, Jenkinson, Ungerer, & Waters, 1997), data were collected from 157 parents (primarily mothers) when their child was aged 4 months, 12 months and 30 months. The sample included participants from a wide range of backgrounds, initially recruited when the mothers were attending obstetric clinics in central Sydney. Using interviews, viewing diaries and questionnaires, the investigators sought information about the amount, intensity and social contexts of early television viewing, the kinds of programs to which children were exposed and their reactions to them, and parental concerns and mediation strategies.

Infants in this study were viewing on average 5 hours per week of TV at 4 months, increasing to almost 10 hours at 30 months (with considerable individual variation). According to the mothers' perceptions, the intensity (manifest concentration) of children's viewing increased over this age span. The peak viewing times for 4- to 30-month-olds were 6-9 a.m. and 6-9 p.m. Children viewed a wide range of program types, including children's programs but also news, sports, and drama content. Children's programs increased as a proportion of total viewing during the age span, though even at 30 months these constituted less than half (45%) of the children's viewing. Viewing intensity was highest for these programs, though intermediate levels of perceived interest were reported for news, light entertainment and drama.

80% of mothers reported that their children imitated things seen on television, and 18% said theirs did not. 55% of children were reported to have imitated games, activities or scenes, 47% imitated dances, mimes, actions or movements and 45% imitated music, rhymes, songs or noises. In contrast, only 13% were reported to imitate aggressive behaviour.

The meaning of this finding is open to debate and warrants further research. The characteristics and severity of the behaviours and the intentions of the children were not recorded. It is possible that mothers over-interpret rough-and-tumble play, which would be becoming increasingly prevalent in children entering the toddler stage (Durkin, 1995b). On the other hand, it is also possible that mothers were oblivious to some ramifications of viewing aggressive material: for example, if delayed imitation occurred, perhaps when the child was less closely supervised, it might be harder for lay observers to relate this to television experiences. It is also possible that imitation rates are lower in very young samples, who lack the motor skills to enact some of the behaviours seen on television.

A subset of the sample (37 mothers) was asked what they thought their child (at 30 months) had learned from television. Most reported positive learning, such as vocabulary, counting skills, music, but one quarter reported that television had made their child more aggressive. Again, this is a potentially important finding, but one which should be interpreted with caution. How do the mothers determine causality (a task which has challenged many of the world's leading social scientists for decades)? Are they accurate, or do they under- or over-estimate the effects of television in this regard? How can we disentangle the developmentally increasing capacity of the toddler for robust and aggressive behaviours from his or her accumulating television viewing experience? What is distinctive about the one quarter of children (or families) where aggressive learning is reported? What do parents do when they discern influences of this kind? This ongoing study raises many fascinating questions and provides findings collected in a broader social-developmental context than is typically accessible to media researchers.

Kindergarten and school age children

Turning to older children, several different research groups have reported findings based on children's own accounts of their media (usually, but not only, television experiences). The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) has conducted extensive research into children's opinions about television content (Sheldon, Ramsay, & Loncar, 1994; Sheldon & Loncar, 1995, 1996). Sheldon et al. (1994) report the findings from qualitative and quantitative studies investigating 9- to 12-year-old children's attitudes to violence, kissing and swearing on television. Over 100 children participated in preliminary focus groups, and over 1,600 took part in a survey.

It is often asserted in public debate that audiences, including the young, have become inured to violence in the media as a result of the sheer proliferation of aggressive content. Sheldon et al.'s (1994) study indicates that the true picture is more complex. For example, about half of their sample certainly professed liking programs that were 'action packed' with fights, guns and car chases. On the other hand, nearly two thirds said that they did not like to watch programs that show children being hurt or 'whacked'. Almost as many disliked programs which showed animals being hurt or parents arguing and fighting. When asked in the survey whether they had ever viewed anything which had upset or bothered them, 50% of children spontaneously listed incidents involving violence (contrasting with mentions of nudity and swearing, which appeared in only 8% and 2% of responses, respectively). Independent research by Cupit (1997) yields compatible findings. He asked 1,500 South Australian upper primary children to identify scenes that they had witnessed on videos that left them with unwelcome memories, Approximately 25% of children spontaneously mentioned themes related to violence.

Durkin (1990) summarises an interview study of Australian kindergarten children's reactions to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an imported American series that inspired seemingly universal enthusiasm among young viewers and corresponding alarm among parents and educators. At the time, there were many allegations in the Australian media that young children could not differentiate fact from fantasy in TV, and reports that children nationwide were slavishly emulating the Turtles' martial arts practices. In fact, Durkin's interviewees proved well aware that the Turtles were not real and elaborated that their aggressive play was not for real, either. Similar findings are reported by Sheldon and Ramsay (1996) in a more extensive series of interviews about, among other topics, the Turtles' successors, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Interview studies can provide insights into children's perceptions and reasoning, but of course are limited as tests of the social consequences of viewing a particular type of material (often, this is not their primary focus). It is certainly possible that children react to aggressive media in ways which they do not recognise consciously or cannot articulate. The commercial effectiveness of the Turtles and Power Rangers enterprises could hardly be refuted, and others have argued, partly on the basis of clinical observations, that we need to monitor the subtle incorporation of aggressive cartoon heroes' values and problem solving techniques along with their T-shirts, pencils, cups and other accompanying products (Young, 1990). Sanson et al.'s (1993) investigation of the interaction of program content and associated toy play are also of obvious relevance in this connection.

Tulloch and Tulloch (l992a, 1992b; Tulloch, 1995) have conducted several studies designed to investigate whether young viewers interpret all forms of violence in the same way, and whether tolerance levels vary with genre and social institution. In one study, they tested the responses of 1,277 Sydney school students, in Years 4, 7 and 10 to four twenty minute episodes of aggressive television content. Their stimuli included a portrayal of domestic violence in a popular soap opera, documentary footage of police violence, a compilation of scenes of sports violence, and a war drama (Tulloch & Tulloch, 1992a). Students' responses were collected in questionnaire-type judgments of the rights and wrongs of the behaviours presented and evaluations of alternative solutions, as well as in essays on 'what the program was about'. The findings are complex, involving interactions among age, social class and gender, and varying across the programs. However, one of the most important outcomes was that the children did reason very differently about violence in different contexts. For example, almost all responded that domestic violence was intolerable, not 'natural' and that something could be done about it, whereas many felt that violence on the sport's field 'just happens' and 'no-one can stop it really'. The authors argue (1992b) that children treat domestic violence as shown in television as a serious issue and have strong feelings about it; television may have a role to play in raising awareness of this social problem. These studies open up interesting methodological possibilities for researchers investigating young people and media violence, and raise important questions about the role of perceived reality in learning from television. We know from other Australian research that children often report that they do not like watching the news, in part because it is 'boring' but also because it contains realistic accounts of horrific, violent and frightening events (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1990; Palmer, 1986; Sheldon & Loncar, 1996).

Low and Durkin (1997a) have investigated developmental and representational processes in young viewers' interpretations of a TV genre that is often associated with antisocial and aggressive content: police programs. Police and crime-related dramas are popular among young Australian viewers (Sheldon et al., 1994) as they are in other countries (Huston et al., 1992), but they are well known to offer a distorted account of crime and police work, as well as other cognitive challenges to the young viewer (Durkin, 1992; Durkin & Howarth, 1997). Low and Durkin invited children and young adults to relate what happens in a police program. In this way, it is possible to examine whether children have themselves acquired scripts (cognitive schemas, about the typical sequence of events for crime consistent with elements of popular television. For example might children learn that, 'If you need some money, you could steal it from a bank' or that 'You beat people up when you want something'. In fact, no evidence emerged of these kinds of scripts in any age group. However, even the youngest children did have structured, script-like knowledge of what happens in police shows. All participants regarded the commission of a crime as integral, but most also knew about the course of events thereafter: for example, even the younger children believed that arrests/imprisonment follow crimes, and older children knew more about intermediate processes (such as investigations, chases, and other legal activities). In another study (Low and Durkin, in press), even relatively young children demonstrated not only an awareness of the intent of criminals but also some appreciation of how members of the public (e.g., witnesses) and legal institutions (such as the courts) play a role in the administration of justice. One implication of these findings is that, at least with respect to the crime genre, children do not select isolated bits of actions or scenes (aggressive or otherwise) but organise their understanding of the programs around a series of sequentially connected events.

If children do develop scripts for crime programs, are these reflected in their understanding of real life crime and police work? In another study, Low and Durkin (1997b) asked children aged 6 to 12 to estimate how often police engaged in activities that are shown frequently in television (high speed pursuits, aggressive arrests) and activities that are shown infrequently in television (routine patrols, handling order maintenance cases). Half of the children were asked to estimate how often these activities were undertaken by real life police, and half were asked how often they were taken by television police. Children in the television condition demonstrated reasonably accurate awareness of which activities police shows depict frequently or infrequently. However, children in the real life condition tended to overestimate the frequency of some activities, and to underestimate the frequency of others -- and these inaccuracies fell in the directions predicted by television content. Among the activities that were seen as very frequent in police work were aggressive behaviours such as dramatic chases and rough searches. In other words, these young viewers appear to be constructing their social understandings with reference to their most readily available source of information: television. One important qualification, though, was that children were less influenced by television when it came to estimating the frequency of police activities that they have opportunities to observe directly (such as routine patrols).

In sum, there is a growing interest in children's own accounts and interpretations of what they experience in the media. Various methodologies are used, ranging through interviews, script generation tasks, and experiments. If a common thread can be discerned it is the recognition that children's media use is not a unidirectional phenomenon but an interactive process influenced by cognitive and linguistic development and social context.

Parental mediation

A prominent aspect of the social context, of course, is the family. Another major theme of recent work has been the ways in which parents become involved in children's media use. Researchers have become increasingly interested in parental mediation partly in response to theoretical developments within media research (Huston & Wright, 1994) and developmental psychology (Goodnow & Collins, 1990; Sigel, McGillicudy-DeLisi, & Goodnow, 1992) and partly in response to political and sociocultural realities: the recognition that, whatever the legislative climate, primary responsibility for children's media use will fall to their caregivers.

The Sydney infancy study reports that most of children's early viewing occurred in the presence of a parent, and this was especially likely in the case of news, current affairs, sport, light entertainment and drama programs (Cupitt et al., 1997). In effect, the parents' own viewing habits were the primary determinants of children's exposure to television content, though during the age span studied children became slightly more autonomous in electing for children's programs when they were available.

Cupitt et al. (1997) found that mothers were ambivalent about the effects of television, perceiving positive consequences (such as broadening experiences and educational gains) but also negative or harmful influences. In open-ended responses, concerns about violent/war content were expressed by 59% of mothers. This figure was higher than those for sex (25%), news and current affairs (22%) and cartoons (21%). Mothers were concerned that violent models could encourage the acceptance of aggression and other undesirable values.

Very similar figures are reported by Skoien and Berthelson (1997) in a study of parental attitudes towards video game play. Most respondents (94%) indicated that they perceived educational value in the games, but almost as many (87%) perceived the games as displacing other activities and almost all (98%) regarded the games as having the potential to encourage negative gender role stereotypes, aggressive behaviour and addiction.

Several researchers have addressed issues relating to parental regulation, Sheldon et al. (1994) found that almost all (98%) of parents of young children claimed to have rules restricting their children's viewing of television in some way. Nearly half (48%) claimed to regulate viewing of programs containing violence. 89% of parents in the Australian Broadcasting Authority's (1994) survey of attitudes towards R-rated material on Pay TV indicated that they used one or more methods of intervention to influence their children's television viewing, and only 7% indicated that their children were able to select their own programs without any parental guidance. Skoien and Berthelson (1997) report that about 85% of the parents in their study indicate that they have acted to restrict their children's computer game play at least occasionally (we turn to their strategies below).

A major study initiated jointly by the ABA and the OFLC has investigated a wide range of issues concerning the uses of electronic entertainment in Australian family homes (Cupitt &Stockbridge, 1996). Parents and their 8- to 17-year-old children participated. The project had a qualitative phase (involving about 80 parents) and a quantitative, survey-based, phase (involving over 700 families). Parental concerns about media uses and their strategies for regulating electronic entertainment in the home were addressed, as well as the relative patterns of use of different media by the children. The report provides a wealth of additional findings on the reasons for rules governing uses of electronic media, the respective perceptions of children and parents about the rules, the relationship of media use to family routines and parental work, and young people's game preferences.

The data provide a clear reminder of the importance of viewing parental attitudes to the media in a broader context. Parents were given 15 different possible factors that might impact upon a child's life and asked to identify (giving their first, second and third choices) those items that most concerned them in relation to their own child's well-being. At the top of their list came 'Education' (35%), followed by 'Personal safety and security' (25%), 'Quality of life' (13%), 'Drugs' (12%), and then 'Electronic entertainment' (6%). The rating for electronic entertainment (which included arcade games, CDs and cassettes, cinema, computers, computer/video games, telephones, radio, television and video) was marginally greater than 'Employment' (4%) and 'Natural environment' (3%).

A majority of the parents had rules about when TV could be watched (82%) and when computer games could be played (75%). Fewer parents had rules about the content of games (56%). In general, parents were less concerned about the content of games than the content of television. One of the major reasons was that games were seen as less realistic. Interestingly, violent, combat-style games ranked relatively low in appeal compared to platform games.

Parental strategies to influence their children's television viewing include rules about times for viewing (reported by 50% of parents), set bed times (48%), monitoring programs (40%), and discussions about suitability of programs (31%; respondents could provide more than one response). 31% of parents said that they used the classification system or TV guide to choose appropriate programs. Note that the classification system operates by default when viewing hours are restricted, as programs classified Adults Only are allowed only after 8.30 p.m. Paterson & Hellmers (1993) found that very few parents report that their children view TV alone after 8.30, and these tended to be older children. When the classification systems for all three media (television, films and videos) were considered, over 70% of parents used classification information at least some of the time.

The strategies parents employed to restrict video game play were solicited by Skoien and Berthelson (1997). 35% of parents used direct or coercive strategies (such as prohibiting play or intervening to turn the computer off, 23% suggested or encouraged alternatives, and 42% used rules and regulations (such as designating specific times for play, allowing play only after educational or household work is completed). These researchers also investigated parental guidance styles, adapting instruments devised originally in the study of families and television (Bybee, Robinson, & Turow, 1992; Van der Voort, Nikken, & van Lil, 1992). Their results indicate that parental beliefs about video games predict the kinds of guidance used: for example, parents who saw educational value in the games tended to favour unfocused guidance, while parents concerned about content used evaluative guidance, and parents concerned about displacement emphasized restrictive guidance. Future research could usefully investigate the consequences of parental intervention, and of parental default.

These claimed levels of parental regulation might be open to the challenge that surveys will tend to elicit socially desirable responses: parents may not be willing to disclose that they allow their children to access unsuitable programs or computer games. However, Cupitt and Stockbridge (1996) collected reports on family regulations from both parents and their children independently, and then examined the extent to which they were congruent. In the majority of cases, the parents and children gave consistent responses. When there were disagreements, there was a tendency for parents to claim there were rules and children to claim there were not -- though this varied across media. Most parents will probably agree that there are intergenerational differences of opinion about the status of domestic rules and regulations! But, overall, the children's responses tended to validate their parents' accounts.

In sum, Australian findings from several different large scale studies indicate that the majority of parents are involved in children's media use. Parents monitor what children watch and, to a lesser extent, what they play on their computers. They set rules about amounts and schedules. Sometimes, they intervene to divert children from particular types of content and to encourage them towards others. Parents convey their own attitudes about the media, and about the behaviours displayed or provoked, by direct and indirect means. It remains the case that we know little about the processes or the consequences for children's appraisals of their media.

Related topics

Finally, we mention briefly two topics of current concern to researchers and policymakers in Australia and New Zealand that overlap with concerns elsewhere in the world and are certainly very pertinent to the rights of the child: the treatment of indigenous peoples in the media, and the topic of sexual abuse. Although these issues are of obvious importance, research is presently in a very preliminary phase. However, it does have the potential to broaden our undemanding of the relationships among aggression in society and children's experiences of the mass media.

There is growing concern about the presentation of minority groups in Australian media, most notably Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people tend to be both underrepresented and misrepresented. They appear infrequently in many areas of television, for example, but when they do they are often associated with antisocial behaviour, drunkenness, violence and civil disturbances and race riots (Bell, 1993; Bosrock, 1993; Cuneen, 1994; Goodall, 1993; Nugent, Loncar, & Aisbett, 1993). Aggression in this context, then, is manifest in the media's contributions to the cultural marginalization of a minority group, in the stereotyping of ethnic groups as aggressive and problematic, and in the possible encouragement in the larger community of racist attitudes and aggressive behaviour towards people of indigenous background (Cahill &Ewen, 1992). The representation of Maori people in New Zealand's media is associated with some similar concerns, though the more complex history of colonial relations in that country has given rise to a correspondingly more ambivalent (occasionally very idealised) pattern of representation (Blythe, 1994).

Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the reactions of young (or other) viewers to these aspects of content. However, Sheldon and Loncar (1996), in interviews with 117 Australian children, found that elementary school children were aware of the scarcity of Aboriginal people in television, and were particularly positive about a show dealing with issues of racism if they themselves had experience relating to this problem. Much remains to be investigated concerning the impact of inequitable and negative racial images, and the potential for positive images.

Our final current issue derives from analyses of the ways in which the Australian and New Zealand media treat the problems of child sexual abuse and domestic violence (Atmore, 1996, in press a, b). Atmore discusses how the media contribute to heightened awareness of child abuse, and develops a feminist perspective on the nature of 'moral panics' and the interweaving of journalistic and ideological purposes. Given the likely durability of this topic, important questions arise concerning the impact upon children's perceptions of their personal safety and adult behaviour, though as yet relatively little empirical research appears to have been addressed to these matters.

In sum, we suggest that these are two topics that are very pertinent if we wish to understand the interrelations among aggressiveness, media and young people. With respect to the first, the unique histories and multicultural compositions of each country mean that Australia and New Zealand have particularly important responsibilities in respect of Article 17 of the UN convention that states should 'encourage the mass media ... to have particular regard to children from indigenous and minority groups'. With respect to the second, the ubiquitous occurrence of sexual abuse, and of media sensationalism of the problem, prompts many questions for media researchers -- as well as formidable conceptual and logistical challenges that we have yet to address.


Research is being addressed to a wide range of issues related to aggression and young people's media in Australia and New Zealand. Community concerns have been investigated extensively, and diverse approaches have been taken to investigate the possible consequences of viewing or playing with aggressive media content. It is probably fair to say that the balance of current research attention is directed towards the perceptions, experiences and understanding of young viewers themselves and the priorities and mediating strategies of parents. Research developments have reflected developments in the electronic media, though traditional media such as television remain of focal interest, too. It has been suggested here that among many prospects for future directions greater attention to issues that certainly involve aggressiveness (such as ethnic representation, crime, sexual abuse), but which have been hitherto relatively neglected by researchers in this field, could prompt us to diversify our investigations and our methods, ultimately contributing towards a fuller understanding of the relationships among young viewers, their families, their media and the larger society.



1. G = General (suitable for all ages), PGR = Parental Guidance Recommended (parental guidance recommended for persons under 15), M = Mature (recommended for mature audiences 15 years and over), R = 18 + Restricted (restricted to adults 18 years and over).


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