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WETZSTEIN: Let’s give tough love to media

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We Americans sure love our media. We buy their devices, we watch their content, we give them as gifts. But do our media love us back?

A study funded by Common Sense Media and National Institutes of Health (NIH) yet again raises questions about children's consumption of media, especially TV.

The study finds, for instance, that children who watch a lot of TV have an increased risk of getting fat. Children who see a lot of smoking in movies - including movies shown on TV - are at higher risk for experimenting with smoking at a young age. Children who see a lot of sexual content in the media are at higher risk for early sexual experimentation.

Additional evidence suggests heavy media viewing is linked to youthful drug and alcohol use, poor academic performance and attention-span problems.

"We've known about media exposure and violence, but not these other health outcomes," Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chairman of the Department of Bioethics at the NIH's Clinical Center, said at a Dec. 2 Capitol Hill briefing on the study.

Some ill effects appeared quickly, with just eight hours a week of media consumption, Dr. Emanuel said. That's a "very worrisome finding," he said, since many teens engage in 40 hours of "screen time" a week.

"Kids spend ... a lot more time with media than with you or in school," said Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, which offers family friendly ratings for movies, TV shows, video games and other media. "The media is reshaping their education and values - and affecting their health," he added.

Sadly, however, when it came to solutions, this well-researched study didn't offer much that was new.

It urged parents to limit and balance children's time with media, talk with them about what they're watching and check ratings and reviews.

Well, duh.

It urged policymakers to limit advertising to children and spend, spend, spend - pay for public service announcements, a media literacy movement and more research (especially on computer use, video games and cell phones).

Well, double-duh.

It further had the obligatory pleas for the industry to police itself and schools to teach media literacy.

Folks, I have been attending media briefings like this since the mid-1990s and I am bone-tired of "solutions" like these. People profit from what appears on TV and in the movies, the Internet and games. They don't care if you like it as long as you - or preferably the next generation of profit centers who live in your home - buy or watch it. Captive audiences are just fine with them.

How about this instead. Let people buy TV media packages with just the 25, 100 or 200 channels they want. We the people will be happy to abandon the dreck and assist industry leaders in identifying quality programming.

Or how about some real-world rating systems. Sure, we can set our V-chips to block TV-14VSLD shows. But what about the rest of the schlock out there? How much more fun would it be to click on a Web site and slap an image of a barnyard animal on a TV show, movie or video game? A few turkeys means proceed with caution. Hundreds of turkeys and it sinks faster than Rosie O'Donnell's variety show.

I'm sure others have better suggestions; please send them in. But until we the people find a way to speak back and leverage media industries' access to our homes, nothing will change.

• E-mail Cheryl Wetzstein.