Violent media, violent kids?

Health groups say yes; Congress takes the cue, renews call for code of conduct
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Violent entertainment encourages kids to be violent, according to four major public health groups.

"[The effects of violent media] are measurable and long lasting," said the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry last week in a joint statement. "Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life."

The groups say there is a "causal connection" between children's behavior and violent TV shows, videogames, movies and music.

But they also pointed out that many other factors-including family breakdown, peer influences, and easy availability of guns and other deadly weapons-contribute to the problem.

The groups did not advocate any remedies, but Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.)-joined by Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), and Reps. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)-renewed the call for the entertainment industry to voluntarily adopt a "code of conduct" that would guide programming decisions.

"The cigarette industry was cool to discussing the public-health impact of smoking, but it has become clear that this is a public-health concern," Brownback said. "We intend to put the same pressure on the entertainment industry."

But Brownback is hesitant to go so far as to advocate passing a law that would require entertainment companies to create such a code, and it is questionable whether such legislation would survive constitutional scrutiny.

The entertainment industry has stayed largely quiet on this issue since June 1997, when broadcasters, cable companies and film studios hammered out a compromise with advocacy groups to add content-based ratings to TV programs. But the media-violence issue received renewed scrutiny following the Columbine shootings.

Last week, a spokesman for the National Cable Television Association said most programmers already use content-based TV ratings to inform parents about programs. NCTA also promotes initiatives that help families watch TV more critically, he said. The Motion Picture Association of America chose not to comment and the National Association of Broadcasters did not return phone calls by deadline.

Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani called on the "entertainment industry and, particularly, the broadcasting industry to stop violating the minds of our children," adding, "I will be asking the FCC chairman to hold a hearing on television violence and the public interest obligations of broadcasters."

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