Parents and educationalists are given to moaning about children and television: it stops them reading; there’s too much sex and violence.
Parents are particularly anxious because they feel they are losing control over their children’s viewing. One of the biggest struggles in the home is children trying to wrest control of what and how they view away from their parents. Two thirds of British children now have a TV in their bedroom, which is double the number of European children.
Although television has advantages as an educational medium, international comparisons have shown that children who spend five or six hours a day watching television do not do as well educationally as those who only watch it for an hour or two. Television provides imaginary and artificial experiences which take the place of children’s direct experience of the natural world, and even the social world of their own households. This is a loss we scarcely acknowledge, yet it frames many of the current concerns about children’s TV.
On the other hand, television is not harmful in itself. The question we should ask is perhaps not “How much television is too much?” but “What sort of programmes are we talking about?” The visual impact of television can be enormously helpful in encouraging children to take an interest in the outside world. Subjects like geography and history are much more real if we can see pictures of mountains, castles and famous people, and it is easier to show children how scientific processes work on a TV screen than by means of an explanation in a book. While some teachers argue that children should always learn to find out things for themselves, others recognize that television has a useful part to play in education.
To a certain extent, parents are responsible if children watch too much television; after all, they can turn the programmes off if they think they are harmful. All the same, the real responsibility lies with the television companies. In spite of the obvious potential of television as an educational medium, this potential is wasted because it is misused. Children probably watch too much television, but this is not the main problem; the main problem is that they watch too many mindless programmes because there is nothing for them to see.
Children should have programmes of quality which are made specifically for them, reflecting their particular needs, concerns, interests and culture, and which do not exploit them.
TV is often accused of showing too much violence or mayhem: scenes of fights, assaults, murder and so on. Violence on TV and in films is often referred to as gore, especially when blood is visible. A film with a lot of violence and blood in it is gory.
The US cable television industry announced a major new initiative to deal with the problem of violence in American television programming. At two Capitol Hill news conferences, cable television executives, joined by concerned legislators, discussed specific ways the industry can help reduce the level of violence as portrayed in TV entertainment programs – including using available technology to block violent shows from homes.
Their proposals include:
· using cable programming to stimulate a national discussion on violence and ways to curb it;
· developing a violence ratings system to give viewers more information and control over what they watch;
· forming an industry group to monitor programmes;
· prefacing violent programmes with a parental advisory;
· providing television sets with viewer discretion technology to enable parents to block violent programmes.
Cable programmers “have united to lead the television industry in the effort to combat the epidemic of violence in America,” added Winston Cox, chairman and head of Showtime Networks Inc. “We are taking action to give viewers more control over what they are watching, and on a long-term basis, seeking to reduce the level of gratuitous violence on television,” said Cox.
Congressman Edward Markey says Cox’s efforts have helped produce an agreement among cable stations nationwide “which many would have predicted impossible to reach just three or four months ago.” Nonetheless, he explained, the major networks “have continued to resist” the efforts to rate their broadcast programmes and efforts to install circuitry into the TV set to enable parents to block objectionable programmes.
That “V-chip” technology, he said, is already being used to transmit and display closed caption information to deaf viewers for a few dollars per set and could be adapted cheaply “to block any of the programming that is sent with a V by the cable or television industry.” All television sets sold since last July now include the chip.
According to Byron Dorgan, who introduced Markey’s legislation in the Senate, “Study after study demonstrates that children watching television violence, become more aggressive.” “No one is here suggesting that there ought to be a thought police, suggesting there ought to be censorship of any kind,” he added. “What we are suggesting is to use technological means to give parents the opportunity to better supervise their children viewing habits. It’s that simple.”