Television 'link' to violence condemned

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The Independent Online
No direct link exists between television and viewers' behaviour, an academic claimed yesterday, and any suggestion that it does is simplistic and dangerous since it ascribes undue power to the media, and television in particular.

David Gauntlett, who is completing a PhD on television at the University of Leeds, argues in Moving Experiences: Understanding Television's Influences and Effects, published yesterday, that concern over the links between screen and real-life violence is caused by middle class moral panic, erroneous media reporting and political desires to find a scapegoat for social ills.

But the book has been criticised by Professor Elizabeth Newson, emeritus professor of child development psychology at Nottingham University, who says that those who resist any kind of censorship ignore the wealth of evidence now linking screen and real-life violence.

Professor Newson is singled out for criticism in the book after leading a public campaign by 36 child psychologists and psychiatrists linking violent behaviour with violent images just before David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP, presented an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to banning "unsuitable" videos. Mr Gauntlett says this was a prime example of academics conniving with politicians while offering no fresh research.

But Professor Newson said yesterday that there was no need for new research. "The evidence has been building up for 10 years," she said. "The prevailing view in our profession is now that there is a link that is as close as you can get to proof when you are dealing with human behaviour. Those who claim there is no proof are like the tobacco manufacturers who maintain that there is no proven link between smoking and lung cancer."

Mr Gauntlett's book comes at a time when the BBC is under pressure from the Government to clamp down on screen violence by inserting a clause relating to sex, bad language and violence into its new charter, currently under renegotiation.

All too often, Mr Gauntlett says, research into the effects of television is interpreted as "inconclusive", but, he adds, "it has answered its own question: television does not have predictable, direct effects."

Another major problem with much of the research to date is that it has been largely laboratory based, and therefore unable to reflect the other influences at play when viewers watch in the real world. Mr Gauntlett believes one piece of work worthy of mention is the study of young offenders' viewing habits, commissioned last year by the British Board of Film Classification, the Independent Television Commission, the BBC and the Broadcasting Standards Council. It concluded that their overall viewing broadly matched that of normal schoolchildren.

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