LETTER : TV violence: case studies and role models in the visual media

From Mr Mervyn Benford

Sir: Melvyn Bragg defends TV ("You can't blame it on the box", 4 August) typically robustly in terms of its alleged influence on young people but it seems too much a riposte to TV's detractors. He explicitly accepts TV as one of a range of potential influences upon the young. In being prepared to share the blame, he offers no ideas to contain such influence. Parents and the other cited sources of influence receive regular advice. Why should not TV and the media?

Hard-nosed commercialism supports the worth of TV advertising. Though aimed more at maintaining brand name and image, few dispute that it achieves such. Ever since The Archers, and maybe earlier, "soaps" on radio and TV have consistently incorporated into storylines current issues and a socially responsible attitude towards them. Surely this affirms that influence is possible through characters recognised as potential role models. Mr Bragg rightly argues the potential for good example to influence us.

Mr Bragg cites playground experience. What once was plain fist-fights has changed in recent years to include kicking persons on the ground. Footballers and football fans set this example, often faithfully reported on TV. The news media report horrific scenes of violence perceived not as fiction but fact. Real people are seen to be violent to one another. Vicariously these, too, are role models. It would be wrong to blame the escalating violence of our world on TV and film alone, but there has been a concurrent trend within the visual media in which scales of violence have escalated. It is fatuous to dissociate TV and film from engagement with an issue that may reflect similar, earlier debate but which has reached vastly more worrying proportions.

Mr Bragg does not deny that children rely on role models to establish accepted norms of behaviour. Respected sociology points to the probing employed by newcomers to social groups to discover what is or is not acceptable. It includes behaviour the particular group may deem undesirable, or anti- social. The group retains the right to set its own requirements and not see its best efforts undermined. The adult world is just the group to which a child comes as the newcomer.

It is well known in education that where home and school work together, the messages have more chance of sinking in. When school and home are opposed, home will usually win, though distress for the child may also show. Where society's messages conflict with other more personal impressions, including novelty, excitement, experiment, the first tendency will be to ignore society or authority. It remains important for society to work in harmony with its potential rivals for influence, but influence and modelling do occur. It is not always necessary to endure the distress of unacceptable behaviour. It remains possible to learn from others' experience and avoid the misery. It takes a full community partnership and TV has a role to play. It is dangerous to polarise the debate as pro- or anti- TV. It is myopic to confine it to violence. And despite the fact the British film censor may not become depraved by Lady Chatterley, it is clear adult attitudes to sexual licence have changed during a time when media licence in such matters has expanded.

Yours faithfully,

Mervyn Benford



4 August