- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Violent television, movies, video games and music threaten children's health, leading public health organizations said yesterday, citing the results of more than 1,000 studies.
"The conclusion of the public-health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing violent entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children," said a statement by the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychological Association.
In an appeal to entertainment industry leaders who say it is up to parents to control what children see or hear the statement called for "a more honest dialogue" about the "pathological effects of entertainment violence" on children.
Members of Congress yesterday applauded the statement, which was released at a Capitol Hill press conference.
"The verdict on violent entertainment is now in… . Violent entertainment is a public health hazard," said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.
Said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat: "Common sense, as well as the Bible, tells us that we should not be surprised. We reap what we sow, and we have been sowing some very dangerous seeds."
The joint declaration was the first time prominent medical and psychological health groups said violent entertainment from television, movies, music and video games was linked to anti-social behavior, particularly in children.
Industry representatives did not speak at the Capitol Hill event and spokesmen for the National Cable Television Association and Recording Industry Association of America were unavailable for comment.
A spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said last night they were aware of the meeting, but "we're not issuing a statement at this time."
Jeff Bobeck, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told Associated Press that television now has V-chips and a rating system to help parents take control of what their children watch.
"We think more parents need to control their remote control," Mr. Bobeck said.
Carolyn Rauch, senior vice president of Interactive Digital Software Association, said her industry is concerned about violence, which is why they now describe the content of video games on labels and use a ratings system.
"Basically, people have what they need to make appropriate purchasing decisions for their household and it's up to parents, not the government, to make those decisions about what their kids should see," said Ms. Rauch, adding that only a small percentage of video games are rated for "Adults Only," whereas 70 percent of games are rated "E" for everyone.
The AMA and other groups agreed that more research is needed on the effects of violent video games on youth, but added that early research on the games suggests that their negative effects "may be more severe" than TV, movies or music.
The public health groups highlighted four "measurable" negative points about children's exposure to violent media:
Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to see violence as an acceptable way of solving problems.
Viewing violence can lead a person to be emotionally desensitized to violence in real life.
Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place, increasing personal fears and feelings of mistrust.
Viewing violence may lead to real-life violence.
Mr. Brownback, who compared yesterday's statement to the medical community declaring that cigarettes can cause cancer, reiterated his belief that the entertainment industry should establish and enforce its own code of conduct.
In this way, they can "set a floor below which they will not go," he said.
Previous calls for entertainment self-discipline have not gotten very far. Industry leaders have insisted the primary problem is a lack of parental oversight, while some politicians have blamed youth violence on guns.
A sheriff's report on the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., found that the two teen-age killers were devotees of the 1994 Oliver Stone film, "Natural Born Killers" and the video game "Doom." But gun-control advocates used the killings to justify calls for new restrictions on firearms.
"We have a shared obligation to save children's lives," President Clinton said, as he proposed sweeping new anti-gun legislation a week after the shootings.
At a May 1999 White House meeting on youth violence after the Columbine shootings, MPAA President Jack Valenti noted that the two anti-social teen-age gunmen "did everything but run up the flag and say: 'I'm going to shoot somebody.' "
Still, even Mr. Valenti warned filmmakers against "gratuitous" violence.
"They should look at their creative work and say, 'Is this the best that I can do? Is there something here that is gratuitous as I define it?' " Mr. Valenti told a June 1999 gathering of screenwriters.
That same month, however, a Hollywood lobbying blitz helped defeat legislation aimed at restricting children's access to violent entertainment.
"The mass-media interests and their money won today, and American parents and children lost," Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, said at the time.
Yesterday, Michael Schwartz, administrative director for Rep, Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said that "the entertainment industry gets a free ride" in battles over youth violence.
"The causes of violent behavior are complex and it's always a mistake to try to draw [a direct] cause and effect," he said. "But it is clearly the case that the escalating level of violence in the media is psychologically disturbing to children. And it's psychological disturbances that are behind the incidences of violence, not the existence of guns."

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