By James P. Tuthill, San Francisco Chronicle
Our debate about how to reduce gun violence in our country has focused almost entirely on gun control since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And that’s appropriate. But another critical element almost has been ignored: the harmful effect of violence in the media.
Even more surprising is that the federal agency with knowledge of these effects has been mute on the subject.
In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission “sought comment on the relationship between media violence and aggression in children.” On April 6, 2007, the commission unanimously adopted a report, “Violent Television Programming and its Impact on Children.” Of the five on the commission then, only Robert McDowell remains.
In adopting the report, the commission:
— Found that many parents and health professionals are concerned about the harmful effects of violence in the media;
— Agreed with the U.S. Surgeon General’s opinion that “a diverse body of research provides strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase children’s aggressive behavior in the short term;
— Concluded it could constitutionally regulate violent content;
— Decided that then-current blocking technologies, such as the TV ratings system, are ineffective to control children’s exposure to violence;
— Suggested a workable definition of violence;
— Concluded that “given the findings in this report, action should be taken to address violent programming … .”
In his comments, then FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, said “clearly, steps should be taken to protect children from excessively violent programming. … Today the commission … concludes that exposure to violent programming can be harmful to children … .”
That was more than 5 1/2 years ago. What has the commission said about the recommendations it made in the light of the shooting massacres of the past five years?
Not one sitting commissioner has issued any statement concerning the tragedy at Newtown and how the FCC might address what Commissioner Michael J. Copps in 2007 called a “public health crisis.” The report sits in a cabinet in the bowels of the commission’s offices, ignored, forgotten – collecting more blood.
While citizens and advocacy groups now call for studies to assess the connection between violence in the media (particularly violence in video games) and aggression in children, the report already finds such a connection. It lays a foundation for what we as a society, and Congress and the commission as our delegates, need to do to reduce the pernicious effects of violence in the media and thus our culture.
We can debate forever whether or not the evidence is sufficient to support the conclusion that violence in the media adversely affects children. But while that evidence might not be definitive, it is more than persuasive when weighed against the pervasiveness of violence in the media and the number of massacres we have suffered since 1966 when Charles Whitman killed 16 people in Austin, Texas.
The FCC needs to act on its own recommendations or push Congress to create laws to enact them. As a nation, we can act now or accept more delay, more denial and more Sandy Hooks. Will we continue to accept as much graphic violence in the media as we’re prepared to pay for in the blood of our children?
U.S. shooting deaths
Ten days later after the FCC adopted a report on the effects of violence in the media, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University and America has had shooting massacres every few months since. Shooting deaths are epidemic. In 2010, 31,672 people were killed in gun-related violence.
Date and location of violent attacks
— April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, Va.
— March 10, 2009, Alabama
— April 3, 2009, Binghamton, N.Y.
— Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood, Texas
— Jan 8, 2011, Tucson, Ariz.
— July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colo.
— Aug. 5, 2012, Oak Creek, Wis.
— Dec. 11, 2012, Clackamas, Ore.
— Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn.
Source: Chronicle research, Violence Policy Center