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SHEET 15 - CHILDREN AND VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA

WHAT IMPACT DOES VIOLENCE in the media have on children and you?  What can we do about it?  How do we balance the tension between freedom of expression and the need to protect children?

 UNESCO’S GLOBAL MEDIA VIOLENCE SURVEY

 The range of media to which children have access has grown rapidly in this generation.  Take the books, newspapers, magazines, films, radio, tapes, records, and broadcast television familiar to children of the previous generation, then add dozens of cable t.v. channels, thousands of videos and video games, and millions of Internet sites.  The result is a dense electronic bath in which children are immersed daily.  This is true not only in the industrialized countries but increasingly in all societies of the world.

 What is the impact of this new environment on children, and what is the particular effect of images of violence in the media?  To address this question, in i996 and i997 UNESCO conducted the Global Media Violence Survey.   More than 5,000 12-year-old students in 93 countries participated, representing all regions of the world and a broad variety of cultural, social, and economic conditions, from countries like Canada andjapan to high-crime neighbourhoods in Brazil and war-ravaged countries like Angola and Tajikistan.  Under the supervision of Drjo Groebel of Utrecht University, the study aimed to understand the role of media in the lives of children and the relationship between media violence and aggressive behaviour among children in different settings.

 The study found that 93% of students who live in electrified urban or rural areas have regular access to television and watch it for an average of three hours a day. This is at least So% more than the time spent on any other out-of-school activity, including homework, being with friends, or reading. There is little doubt that television is the most important medium in the lives of children almost everywhere in the world.

 Television, videos, and video games expose children to high levels of violent images on a daily basis. In many countries, there is an average of five to ten aggressive acts per hour of television. Does this violence affect children's behaviour? The study found evidence for a hypothesis called the "compass theory." Depending on a child's existing experiences, values, and the cultural environment, media content offers an orientation, a frame of reference which determines the direction of the child's own behaviour.   The child does not necessarily adopt the behaviour portrayed, but the media images provide a model, a standard for what may be considered normal and acceptable.

 The study found that aggressive male heroes fascinated boys in all cultures.  Arnold Schwarznegger's "Terminator" is known by 88% of the world's i2-year-olds, whether in India, Brazil, or Japan.  Boys chose action heroes as their role models more frequently than any other category of media image.  The trend was especially strong among boys in high-crime neighbourhoods and war zones.  Girls, by contrast, tended to choose pop stars as their role models.

 The study found evidence that media images reinforce the experiences of children in their real-life environments.  Almost half (44%) of both boys and girls reported a strong overlap between what they perceive as reality and what they see on the screen.  Many children experience both real and media environments in which violence appears to be natural and the most effective solution to life's problems.  Where violence is not a feature of daily life, media portrayals may make it appear to be thrilling, especially when presented out of context.

 ATTEMPTS TO REGULATE THE MEDIA

 The UNESCO study is a major contribution to the growing body of evidence that violence in the media does have a harmful impact on children, recognizing that this effect can vary by gender and by the kind of surroundings in which children are living.  Many countries of the world have taken steps to introduce regulations, or to pressure the media to adopt forms of self-regulation, to curb the level and amount of violence to which children are exposed on television.  The United States has made it mandatory that V-chips be included in all new television sets sold in the country.  These allow parents to program their television sets to screen out broadcasts rated above a certain level for violent or erotic material.  Canada has introduced a code of ethics for broadcasters that is now a condition of licensing by the Canadian Ratio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

 There are problems with these approaches, however.  Government regulations raise concerns about state censorship, and voluntary codes of ethics are unsatisfactory in a medium driven by ratings and fierce competition for advertising revenue.  Moreover, the V-chip is unlikely to defeat any determined 12-year-old intent on watching a t.v. program when parents are absent.  Among experts, a new consensus has been emerging that emphasizes media education, at home and in school, to promote critical thinking by youth in relation to all information and images they receive through the media.

 AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH:  FOSTERING CRITICAL USE OF THE MEDIA

 Canada's Media Awareness Network provides resources to parents, teachers, community leaders, and students themselves to promote critical analysis of media content.  Teachers can go to its Web site for curriculum materials and lesson plans.  Parents can get advice on teaching their children about media messages and establishing good media entertainment habits.  The site also provides information on classification systems and guidelines for movies, television, video games and the Internet.  There is also a wealth of information about reports, articles, parenting books, pamphlets and handouts to support media awareness in the home and community.

 In May, 1999, the CRTC released a milestone report in which it rejected a strategy of attempting to regulate content on the Internet and endorsed the approach of the Media Awareness Network to foster critical use of all media.  The CRTC recognized that, in the hands of new media users, "awareness and knowledge can be a powerful tool." Its report cites the Media Awareness Network as an organization that is "dedicated to media education and media issues affecting children and youth," and directs users to its Internet site at www.media-awareness.ca.

 UNESCO has established the International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.  Its main task is to provide data of every kind on children and media violence to people who need it: researchers, decision-makers, media professionals, academics, voluntary agencies, and interested individuals.  It gathers and distributes research findings, teaching materials, positive alternatives to media violence, and information on measures taken in different countries to limit violence on television, in films, and in the interactive media.

 ABUSE OF CHILDREN ON THE INTERNET

A similar network is now taking shape around the issue of sexual abuse of children, child pornography, and paedophilia on the Internet.  It is made up of specialists in child care and child protection, Internet specialists and service providers, media practitioners, law enforcement agencies, and government representatives.  Like the network on children and media violence, it aims to promote the exchange of information and co-operation among groups concerned with child rights.  It plans to broaden its membership to include parents associations, teachers, and other civic groups.

 THE AIM OF EDUCATION IS to make people active and critical thinkers.  Are you critical enough in relation to the media surrounding your daily life?  Ultimately, this is the only way that a young person can grow up to be an informed and active citizen in a democratic society.
Children educated to analyze media content learn to recognize the contradiction between their taste for violence on television and their rejection of it in real life.  Media education also allows children to become active producers of media content, to learn the methods and language of the media, and to use it in a healthy way as a vehicle way as a vehicle for their own self-expression.

 RESOURCES

 Canada's Media Awareness Network offers a large variety of resources through its Web site at http://www.media-awareness.ca/

 The Web site of the UNESCO International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen is http://www.nordicom.gu.se/unesco.htm