Media Companies Fire Back At Violence Studies

There is no hard evidence, period, that TV violence causes children to be violent. Beyond that, "there is no good reason to believe that television violence causes aggression, much less serious violence."

And attention FCC: Your violence report wasn't of much use.

That is the message some big media companies are sending the FCC and Congress by way of an issue paper from University of Toronto professor Jonathan Freedman.

Freedman concedes that there is a correlation between violent media and aggression, but says that is not the same as causation. An FCC official countered that correlation was sufficient to warrant action.

The Media Institute
, a Washington First Amendment think tank funded by major media companies, issued the paper Wednesday.

While he FCC's recent report to Congress concludes that research shows TV violence is harmful to kids, Freedman says the research does not show that it true. He continues that advocates claiming "overwhelming" evidence for the causal connection are wrong--and need to be challenged on it.

Instead, he said, the FCC did no thorough analysis of the research or an explanation of the FCC's conclusions. "There seems to be mainly an acceptance of that view because more of those they talked with favored it than favored the other view," saying the result "could not hope to produce anything of much use."

"The Violence Report was very clear to differentiate between causation and correlation," countered an FCC official. "It said the data on causation is mixed/inconclusive at this time but that there is strong evidence of correlation and that alone warrants some action to be taken."

Freedman concedes that research shows there is a correlation between watching violent TV and aggressive behavior, but that the explanation may be that aggressive children tend to want to watch more violent shows, an "intuitive" explanation he says should be "ruled out before causation can be proved."

Freedman has been a leading critic of research asserting a causal connection between violent media and real violence.

He points out that the violent crime rate has been declining for the past 15 years, which would not support a theory that the increase in violent media causes more societal aggression.

Some of the points Freedman made in the paper are similar to ones he made in a filing to the commission in 2004 related to its violence inquiry.

The Media Institute's backers include NBC U, Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom, Tribune, and Gannett. The institute commissioned the study but did not pay for it, according to a spokesman.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.