Violence Studies: A Growth Biz

Guest Commentary

Television professionals recently learned that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has caved in to a request from the House Energy and Commerce Committee to issue a notice of inquiry about the impact of TV violence on children. I sigh. Our taxes will pay for it.

As an academician, I'm all for research—when it serves a purpose. This does not. We don't need a federal mandate here or even federal money. For over half a century, the issue of TV violence and children has been explored from every conceivable angle. Over a thousand studies exist, and more are conducted every year.

So, Mr. Powell, drawing on that vast body of literature, here is what you want to know.

Some children, when exposed to some TV violence, may sometimes demonstrate some increase in aggression. Stated another way, in some contexts, violent programming may lead to negative attitudes and behaviors; in other contexts, it may not.

Do you want to believe that TV violence is bad? Plenty of research there. One example comes from Dr. L. Rowell Huesmann and associates in the American Psychological Association journal Developmental Psychology, March 2003. They found that a high level of TV violence in childhood is a predictor of more-aggressive behavior in adulthood.

Do you want to believe that TV violence is not necessarily bad? There's plenty of stuff! One example comes from Dr. Ron Warren in the Broadcast Education Association's Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, September 2003. He found that parental mediation of children's TV viewing can both inhibit negative effects and enhance positive effects.

Do you want to believe both? Once again, a bounty of data! One example is the comprehensive National Television Violence Study, published by the University of California, Santa Barbara. It concludes, "Television can be a powerful influence on social mores concerning violence and aggression, for good or for ill."

Do you want summaries of research? One example comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation's fact sheet, Key Facts: TV Violence, Spring 2003, which outlines studies that present opposing viewpoints. If you prefer your summary from the government, have a look at Section II, "Violent Programming on Television," of the 108th Congress's Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004.

All reasonable people, and yes, that includes most broadcasters and academicians, are sensitive to the potential—though not always the actual—harm of TV violence. This argument is not for TV violence; it is against the government's exercising a right of censorship it does not have, not even in an election year.

Mr. Powell, here is the report you ordered, ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline and free in this magazine. Rescind the notice and cancel the checks. Or send them to me.