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Censorship of the media is a hotly contested topic. The public has declared that there is excessive violence portrayed on television and that this violence ultimately negatively affects viewers, especially children.
Censorship is the regulation and control of information and ideas that are circulated among people within a society. It refers to the examination of electronic and print media for the purposes of altering and/or suppressing parts of the media thought to be inappropriate and/or offensive (Microsoft Encarta 97) The implication of censorship is that it is necessary for the protection of the viewing public. The following is a discussion of violence portrayed in the media, its impact on the viewing public, and censorship of the media. This paper also provides a viable solution to the negative impact of the violence in the media. Violence In the Media and Its Impact It's inconceivable not to think that television couldn't influence our attitudes and behaviors. Neil Postman makes this point by outlining America's movement from a typographic society to telegraphic society. (Postman, 1985) This is not to suggest passivity. Much of what is aired on television is fictional. However, proponents of censorship argue that television creates a false sense of reality and influences not only young children but teenagers as well.
In one incident after viewing the movie The Program, a teen-aged boy was killed and two others were injured after lying down along the centerline of a highway. The teenagers were imitating a scene from the movie. Touchstone Pictures removed the scene from the movie as a result of the tragedy with the teenagers. Another incident in Ohio, five-year-old Austin Messner set his parent's house a fire killing his sister after viewing the popular MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead. In response MTV moved the program to a time slot four hours later. However, did not claim responsibility. (Microsoft Internet's explorer) The implication is that people are passive beings easily influenced by what they see. Another implication is that all people have shared experiences and will think and react alike. Neil Postman advances the thought that television viewing is our way of knowing ourselves and the world ( Postman, 1985)
E.B. White wrote "I believe that television is going to be the test of the modern world, and in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our own vision, we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky.
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The examples cited suggest the potential and very real impact on the viewing public. However, the lack of research suggests this type of extreme behavior is more the exception and not the norm. Speculation of the effects of television violence on the viewing public will continue. Censorship Unfortunate tragedies such as the MTV related incident and the Program related incident draw strong public support for censorship of the media. Should the producers of these programs be held accountable? Yes, producers should be concerned with the content of their programs, however, American society has long since passed that point. Television is a multi billion-dollar industry. The primary concern of the television industry is to net a profit and then entertain the consumers. The network with the highest rating means more profit the network. Censorship is not only controversial but quite difficult to implement. Who decides what is inappropriate or too violent, such vague terminology would be difficult to define. For many years the film industry has practiced a form of self-censorship. Increasing demands from the public forced the industry to develop a system classification in 1968. The major networks voluntarily adhere to a self-regulating system this is in conjunction with regulations established by the Federal Communications Commission. (Microsoft Encarta, 1997)
The V-chip is the most current weapon in the censorship battle. Parents are able to block certain channels so that children are not exposed to violent programming. Analysis As stated above the effects of television violence on viewers, especially children are not definitive. Evidence can be provided to support either position. A logical inclination would be to agree with Feshbach and Singer. Some underlying issue is the basis for such drastic behavior as lying in the middle of highway and not merely the influence of television. Another factor should be considered before drawing any correlation between television violence and influence of viewing television violence, the existence of bias among the researchers. Howitt's and Cumberbatch's Mass Media and Society was published in 1975 they espoused then that the media on whole needed to be reevaluated. It would be interesting to know their respective opinions about the content of today's media. There are many unanswered questions produced by the continuous research on television viewing of violent programs. What does it say about American society when a gratuitously violent television programs get high ratings? What does it say about how we socialize our children? Are the programs an accurate reflection of our reality? Solutions The alternative options aren't new and have probably been discussed before. These alternatives aren't difficult to implement. Parents can and should take responsibility for what their children watch:
1. help the child select appropriate programs,
2. establish guidelines of appropriate times, and
3. being aware of what your children are watching, as Austin Messner's mother should have been.
This is not to suggest that a child can be monitored 24 hours a day. However establishing a sound foundation is important. It's pertinent that self analyzation occurs before we begin to blame the media for anything. Television should be a technology by which we are entertained and informed, however it is necessary to discern what we consider appropriate programming. Television should never be used as an electronic babysitter, as is suggested by the unfortunate Messner case. Guidelines to regulate electronic media exist, however, personal accountability and responsibility are the cornerstones to healthy television viewing habits, not potentially violating free speech. As David Gordon said "The antidote for wrong, dangerous, or offensive speech should be more speech by those who disagree with the original statements, rather than restrictions on the original speech." (Gordon & Kittross, 1999) This statement can be applied to literal speech or television and/or movie content.
Society has been affected and will continue to be affected not only by television but the media in general. Television is a constant form of entertainment and occasionally an average source of news. However, television has been blamed for much of societies flaws because it is easy to attribute it to violence in the media and a social of lack of initiative. Television is a small part of a much larger societal picture and should be weighed as such.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 1997 Postman, Neil Amusing Ourselves to Death; Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Viking Penguin Inc. 1985 Microsoft Internet Explorer Murray John P. "Children and Television Violence" Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, 4 No. 3 1995 Bandura, A., Ross D. & Ross, S.A. "Imitation of Film Mediated Aggressive Models" Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 1963 Feshbach, S. and Singer, R. D. Television and Aggression, 1977 Howitt, D. and Cumberbatch G. Mass Media and Society, 1975 Gordon, D. and Kittross Controversies in Media Ethics, 1999