March 21, 2007


On Sunday, January 21, 2007, Rex Murphy re-visited the issue of television violence on CBC Radio's cross country check-up. As he pointed out, it has been examined by many journalists including himself, on CBC and elsewhere, many times in the past. I think the last time that I, myself, was a guest on his show on the issue was 10 years ago.

Needless to say, I agree with Peter Jaffe, professor at the University of Western Ontario, Diane Levin, Professor at Wheelock College in Boston and several callers who argued that the problem is getting worse. We must do more to protect society at large from the harmful effects of televised violence, particularly children. I also thought the caller who was with the children's television program, Mr. Rogers, for 27 years made some excellent points. The show should be, she said, re-instated on CBC and scheduled at a time when children can actually watch it rather than on a late morning in the middle of the week when they are in school as had evidently been the case toward the end of its run.

Predictably, the arguments haven't changed much over the years. They ranged from…

• "It is just entertainment"
• "Violence has always been with us in real life AND entertainment, dating back to Shakespeare and before"
• "It's up to the parents to supervise the media diet of children"
• "We mustn't interfere with business as usual because it means censorship"


• "I watched it unsupervised by my parents with a computer in my room and grew up okay".

These are all half truths and reinforce the dangerous myth that to do nothing - just live and let live - is the sensible approach to the problem. To ignore the growing evidence of such trends as…

• the militarization of popular culture, particularly in video games;
• "violence creep" both in media entertainment and children's play habits;
• increasing sexual content aimed at younger and younger children and coarse language

…is tantamount to arguing that there is no conclusive research that climate change is caused by human habitation on the planet.

The aforementioned ignorance of evidence and the belief in half truths both point to the problem of denial in the adult population on a number of levels and an inherent inclination of resistance to change. But, as one caller pointed out, the fact that we are debating the need for controls at all, is ludicrous. Media affects us enormously, especially children. Why else would the advertising industry spend over $15 billion annually targeting children, whether it is for junk food, clothes or entertainment, literally from the time they first come out of the womb?

With the exception of the province of Quebec, Canada lags far behind most jurisdictions in Western Europe and other parts of the world in developing legislation banning ads to children on the basis of research showing harmful effects. The UK is adopting legislation modelled on that in Quebec which was to go into effect before the end of January, 2007. This action is being done in response to their growing obesity crisis amongst youth (BBC News, Nov. 25, 2006).

Boston has just adopted a policy to remove all ads for violent video games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ on all public transit buses, trains and other forms of public transit (CCFC Lauds New MBTA Advertising Policy...Dec.12, 2006). Doing the same in Toronto should be a no brainer. A couple of years ago Mayor David Miller's task force on youth gang violence brought in a Minister from Boston and paid him thousands of dollars for some tips on what to do. I thought of this strange irony on Sunday, January 14th, when I heard it mentioned, again on CBC Television, that in Canada, there is a car theft every 20 minutes. So far, Councillor Michael Thompson and Toronto Mayor, David Miller, have been too busy to even consider such an initiative. I first suggested it to them at least 6 weeks ago.

Apart from the obvious harmful effects of media from advertising junk food to children and violent entertainment which leads to increased tendencies to aggression, we could look at this kind of media production and distribution as unsustainable in that it reinforces the worst of consumer driven value systems that divert attention from urgent matters such as climate change and the coming energy crisis.

In the final analysis, protecting our cultural environment is just as important as protecting our water, the air we breath, and the soil we walk on. Nor are they mutually exclusive. We do our children a terrible disservice if we merely sit idly by and "let them decide for themselves" what is best. ALL adults, not just parents, must be held responsible for the guidance and education of children, especially those who determine cultural policy. That means the industry and Government. As Diane Levins, who is also with "Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Commercial Entertainment", pointed out, it is unfair to expect parents and teachers alone, to shoulder the burden of protecting children from the ever increasing onslaught of sophisticated media imagery.

I discuss these points more fully in my book, MIND ABUSE Media Violence In An Information Age and in a book being published this spring by Thompson Nelson. It is being edited by Josh Greenberg and Charlene Elliot, both of whom teach communications at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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