What came first, the show or the violent crime?


Is it true that "there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to violence on television causes aggression…, that there is no longer any legitimate debate about this, and that the effect is as strong as the effect on smoking and cancer?" University of Toronto's Jonathan L. Freeman says a lot of people want you to believe that, but it simply is not true. He notes the a Surgeon General's report "…concluded that exposure to television violence causes a short-term increase in aggression, but went on to say that television violence has little or no role in causing real violence."

Freeman said in its report to Congress on violence, the FCC was correct in noting that there are competing viewpoints on the effects of media violence, but it then curiously and without providing evidence or an explanation, simply declares it believes there is a relationship. "This is not the way science should work," he argued. "It is not a popularity contest or a matter of consensus. It is or should be the research findings that matter…," but then charges that the FCC seems to have ignored the evidence entirely.

Much of the research that is available is being misused, he says. For example, there is a weak correlation between aggressive children and the habit of watching violent programming, but it is not at all clear if the television causes the aggressiveness, or if violent programming is simply favored by naturally aggressive children. This relationship supports neither one side nor the other. In analyzing the studies that have been done, he argues that the combined results are inconclusive and much of the methodology is questionable.

There is a direct line between smoking and lung cancer. Violence in television, supposedly on the upswing right now, is coinciding with a decrease in real violence in society. Freeman wants to know just where the evidence is to restrict programming.