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The Media and Violence — Changing Perspectives After Sandy Hook

posted by Nell Minow

The comprehensive public safety reform package proposed by President Obama today includes new programs and proposed rules to increase support for the mentally ill, restrict access to the most deadly weapons, and provide additional security through more funding for law enforcement.  Vice President Joe Biden included meeting with media industry representatives in developing the proposals.  According to The Wrap, the meeting was “cordial,” and consisted primarily of a presentation about the effectiveness of the industry’s rating system to help parents make choices based on their own values and the needs of individual children.  Today’s proposal, as expected, made no effort to address the content of media (which is protected by the 1st Amendment) or revise the rating system (which is industry-controlled and not regulated by the government).  It does include some funding for additional research into the impact of violent games (not television or movies) on viewers.

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There have literally been hundreds of studies already on this subject.  We know that violence in media impairs empathetic responses and promotes a distorted world view that can lead to bad choices.  We have a multi-billion dollar industry called advertising that is based on the notion that tiny snippets of media can influence opinions and behavior, so we should be long past arguing about whether violent media influences children and vulnerable adults.  Any new research should be devoted to understanding better how media can help people better understand the consequences of violence and learn to make better choices.

PBS has announced a special week of programming inspired by the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

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This special programming will kick off each night with a PBS NEWSHOUR report focusing on topics tied to the Newtown tragedy, including violence in the media, gun control policy and how cities like Aurora, Colorado are moving on after a similar tragedy. The series also includes a FRONTLINE special report, in collaboration with The Hartford Courant, profiling the Connecticut shooter and his relationship with his mother as well as a report on the battle over America’s gun laws and gun culture; a NOVAdocumentary about violence and the brain; two independent documentaries — one on the history of guns in America and the other on school security; a NEED TO KNOWreport about the ripple effects of a fatal shooting incident; and an update on political action in the nation’s capital surrounding gun control from WASHINGTON WEEK WITH GWEN IFILL.

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“This week of specials gives PBS the opportunity to take an in-depth and thoughtful look at the issues the Newtown tragedy laid bare,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming for PBS.  “As we mourn the lives lost in Newtown, it is important to present the facts, the science, and the history behind the issues to provide information and context as we collectively look at how better to protect and serve our communities.”

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