The Role of Media in Building Safe Communities-Presented at The Canadian Ass. for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) Conference held in May, 2009 at Carleton University in Ottawa.

We live in an era where rapid change is a given. Capitalism is in the process of transforming itself in the aftermath of a global financial crisis. Joblessness, homelessness, climate change and energy shortages loom ever larger, underscoring the urgency for changes in lifestyles predicated on endless consumption and materialism. Shrinking food sources and overpopulation are exacerbating existing tensions in conflict zones and fueling new ones. This is happening on a global basis.

In addition we are seeing a huge upheaval in the mass media, where century old newspapers are folding as the Internet gains supremacy, siphoning off advertising revenue. The blogosphere is now an integral part of news gathering, interfacing with both television and surviving newspaper outlets. This has led to much hand wringing about opinions replacing facts. Now, it is not only corporate driven, public relations press releases that diminish investigative journalism but the democratized Net, itself, where everyone is an expert with an opinion regardless of the facts. This unfolding scenario is described by Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture (Doubleday, 2007).

Building safe and healthy communities in the midst of rapid changes pose enormous challenges for adult educators. The good news is that there is a surfeit of books and articles cropping up on the discussion of values and a need to return to the code of ethics not unlike the one that governed our forefathers. Saving for a rainy day is fashionable, once again. Frugality is now described as stylish. Green is the new black. Environmentally conscious models such as British designer, Vivienne Westwood reassure us that a faded, worn look in clothing ensembles is okay. It adds patina. She urges us to “get crafty and safe the planet” (FQ. Magazine, Spring, 2009, p.38) Demand is growing for the replacement of greed and gluttony with genuine need.

Recent public reactions on both sides of the American/ Canadian border to overpaid executives in banks, insurance companies and increasingly obsolete industrial sectors are in themselves the result of two things: responsible, media coverage of events as they unfold and a high degree of literacy within the public at large. Indeed, the scrutiny has even reached that sacred cow in the Canadian media, the CBC, itself. It was reported in The Globe and Mail on March 20, 2009 that The Canadian Media Guild considered it unfair that top executives within the Crown Corporation who get salaries well over $300,000 per year should consider it sufficient to cut their annual, additional bonuses by only 50 percent given the kind of sacrifices that unionized staff are facing. Heritage Minister James Moore insists that the CBC tighten its belt and make do with what it receives from the federal government. Meanwhile the public at large, puzzles over why tax payers should fund the purchase of American programs such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune when local stations in places like Windsor and Kapuskasing are being cut.

Clearly, the media in a myriad of ways, play an enormous role in shaping, preserving and informing communities, and by corollary, educating them for peaceful co-existence. Still largely overlooked, however, is the relentless commercial exploitation of children in ways that compromise their physical and mental health and diminish their capacity for resilience. This robs them of the ability to hone the skills they will need in the future to survive. Countless researchers in the health, behaviour sciences and education communities have warned of the dangers in allowing producers and distributors of popular culture products to target children for profit, regardless of the content or consequences.

In December, 2008, the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood directed by educational psychologist, Susan Linn, based at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. released a Commercialization of Childhood Index. Figures indicate that the amount of money in purchases that children under the age of twelve influence every year is $500,000,000,000. The amount spent marketing goods to children is now $17,000,000,000, an increase from $100 million in 1983. The number of toys sold with kids’ meals at fast food restaurants in 2006 is 1,200,000,000. Baby Einstein videos sold by Disney through 2006, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two, reached 20,000,000. The acts of violence, including 40,000 murders, that the average child will see on television by the age of eighteen are 200,000 in number. Advertisements on television the average 2-11-year-old sees every year, a figure that does not include product placement is 25,000.;

Some of this must change if we are to move toward a more sustainable future that includes safe communities where freedom, democracy, happiness, status and well-being are not tied to endless consumption, internet addiction and role models that teach young people that violence is an acceptable form of conflict resolution. Fortunately, more countries around the world are beginning to respond with legislation banning advertisements to young children. Last year, Great Britain, Switzerland and Italy modeled their legislation on that which has existed in the province in Quebec since the early 1980s. The rest of Canada has yet to follow suit. Indeed, the CRTC is bent on moving us in the opposite direction, having announced in 2007 that all regulation of advertising on television in Canada will be eliminated entirely by September 2009. In summary, the promotion of peace education in Canada, remains riddled with obstacles from profit driven stakeholders.

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