The Science for Peace Position Paper on Media Issues submitted in Feb, 2010

The media working group aims to bring together professors, media scholars, educators, researchers, members of the media themselves, students and members of the general public in Canada and around the world who are concerned about how the mass media impact on Science for Peace objectives. As an organization committed to peace, human rights, justice and the creation of an environmentally sustainable future for all peoples, it is recognized, within Science for Peace, that the media have an enormous influence on attainment of these goals. Advertising and marketing techniques overlap with production and distribution of entertainment and news alike. This is happening in a cultural environment now saturated with products in print, video, television, films, the Internet and other forms of electronic media. At the same time, old forms are crumbling and giving way to new ones as the traditional counterbalance to corporate and political power shifts from print news media to new forms, citizen journalism among them.

Radical changes are urgently needed. Violent content in entertainment commodities because it is a cheap commercial ingredient that sells well in a global economy and translates easily into any language is now the norm. These “action-filled” thematic approaches to communication and amusement are fueling a culture of violence directly at odds with justice, peace and environmental sustainability. Concerned parents, educators, health advocates and community activists identify these trends as “violence creep” amid fading boundaries between the differing forms of media.

Aggressively marketed forms of media distract us from issues key to our survival. Indiscriminate use of communications technologies and the content they carry interferes with our ability to meet the challenges ahead. Peter Nicholson, President of the Council of Canadian Academies, points out that, as we become information-rich, we are becoming attention-poor, an inevitable side effect of the digital revolution. “Economics teaches us”, he says, “that the counterpart of every new abundance is a new scarcity - in this case, the scarcity of human time and attention.” (Nicholson, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 12, 2009).

American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Chris Hedges, warns us of the diminishing distinction between reality and illusion (2009). This inability leads to death and, as a species, we are at a crossroads. Either we will wake up from our state of induced childishness, where trivia, gossip and celebrity worship pass for news and information in our search for an elusive and unattainable happiness and confront the stark limitations before us or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy and ultimate demise.

To most media moguls, calls for new economic models that value natural capital, full cost accounting and carbon taxes apply to other industries. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that equal, unlimited access to the Internet , regardless of energy costs or the purposes of its use, is a right. Reports on medical research linking brain cancer with cell phones and their constant, life threatening and distracting use in cars and by pedestrians, as well as in classrooms, surface from time to time. Similarly, ways in which vocabulary development is being compromised among infants and toddlers, in particular, targeted by commercial interests, literally from the time they emerge from the womb, with electronic media such as brainy baby and Baby Einstein videos also receive marginal coverage (www.C-CAVE.com, www.commercialfreechildhood.org) . Such news co-exists along side reports of “thrillerfests” and other instant entertainment tips shared by action film and video game producers. Meanwhile, findings on the harmful effects of violent entertainment and the commercial exploitation of children, in particular, from thousands of studies released into the public domain in recent decades are usually quickly neutralized to ensure that the debate never gets beyond proof of harmful effects and onto policy (Dyson, 1995, 2000).

Growing concerns among parents, educators and family therapists about the addictive aspects of the Internet, especially among teenagers, continue to be either avoided or ignored entirely by governments. Although mainstream newspapers such as The Globe and Mail, might acknowledge the problem, the only alternative ever considered is better vigilance from parents. “Technology” it was pointed out in an editorial on Jan. 25, 2010, “Is enslaving a generation of children with teenagers and parents capitulating to it...Childhood is now an agglomeration of screens...Nearly every waking moment is a screen moment...”According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people 8 to 18 years of age spend more than 53 hours a week in front of one screen or another.

Any attempts on the part of governments to eliminate tax credits, subsidies and grants, for the production of audio visual material deemed to be harmful to the public interest or restriction on advertising allowed to children, are met with strong lobbying opposition from corporate media who argue against any infringement on their right to corporate freedom of enterprise regardless of the consequences.

Harmful media content fuels climate change in ways beyond obvious concerns about fair and accurate reporting, and the seduction of youth. Half of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations (World Bank 2002). The top 200 have twice the economic clout of the poorest four-fifths of humanity. Popular culture commodities, most of which are violent, are top U.S. exports. Many of these are produced in Canada, where Toronto - sometimes dubbed the Hollywood of the North, is now considered the third largest production centre in North America. Video games have overtaken film and television production and distribution in recent years with this aspect of our economy eagerly embraced and supported by provincial and municipal governments. Two weeks after Grand Theft Auto Part IV was released in 2008, it was considered one of the most lucrative entertainment launches in history (Chakravorty, The Globe and Mail, May 20, 2008). These and other forms of electronic entertainment have also broadened the traditional role of public libraries who now freely make available video games to patrons, regardless of harmful content (Grant, The Globe and Mail, Jan 20, 2010).

Vast amounts of fossil fuel continue to light up billboards, and power vehicles for a single film, television or commercial shoot. In 2008, it was pointed out to the Canadian Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce that, in the previous 12 years, taxpayers contributed over $22 billion to the audio-visual industry. In 2007, the Globe and Mail ran an article on a television recycling plant near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport where overworked technicians scramble to keep up with the demand for removal of lead and other harmful metals from old fashioned tube style sets as viewers switch to flat screens. But for every old set shredded, it was reported that 600 new ones are manufactured for distribution in China. Similar stories abound about the life cycles of computers, cell phones and other forms of communications technologies. Countries such as Nigeria, China and others who are starting to wake up to the ills of environmental devastation and climate change are especially concerned about becoming the dumping grounds for the world’s electronic garbage.

Children in particular, are mercilessly targeted with many of these gadgets which quickly become obsolete. Obesity, juvenile diabetes and heart disease, both from the sedentary nature of endless screen time and the marketing of junk food, while enhancing the balance sheets of corporate media, are threatening the health of an entire generation of young people. Bold and decisive media policy banning advertising directed to children and the elimination of tax incentives and breaks for the production of entertainment that scrambles up their values systems, encourages violence as a form of conflict resolution and unhealthy, consumer driven lifestyles is long overdue.

With the increasing popularity of electronic media, nothing short of democracy, itself, is under siege as old style professional journalism collapses. A well informed citizenry is vital to free and democratic rule. As Robert McChesney and John Nichols point out, the hard and cold truth is that “journalism is a public good that is no longer commercially viable” (2010). The old corporate media system is choking on its own excesses and governments must intervene.

References

Chakravorty. J. (2008, May 20). Take-two rejects extended EA offer - again. The Globe and Mail.
Dyson, Rose A. (1995). The Treatment of Media Violence in Canada since publication of the La Marsh Commission Report in 1977. Doctoral Thesis. OISE/UT.
Dyson, Rose A. (2000). MIND ABUSE: Media Violence in an Information Age. Montreal, New York, London: Black Rose Books. Distributors: UT Press.
Grant. K.. (2010, Jan. 20). Thriving public libraries shelve their fusty image. The Globe and Mail.
Hedges, Chris. (2009) Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Knopf, Canada.
McChesney, Robert W. And John Nichols. (2010). The Death and Life of American Journalism:The Media Revolution that will Begin the World Again. Nation Books. (Perseus Group) Philadelphia.
Nicholson, P. (2009, Sept. 12). Information-rich and attention-poor. The Globe and Mail.

**********************************************************************
Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication