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Senators push for research on how electronic media affect children

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Senators push for research on how electronic media affect children

  • Two senators claim violence in video and computer games and the Internet could harm children, but a media advocacy organization worries that the plan could lead to censorship.

April 18, 2003 — Senators Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) announced plans April 9 to introduce legislation that would fund research on how the media impact children.

The senators made their announcement at a forum sponsored by the Children’s Digital Media Center, an organization that works to promote media literacy and improve the media environment for children.

According to a press release from Lieberman, the legislation would call for a new program within the National Institutes of Health that would fund research exploring the possible health effects that electronic media can have on children. The research would focus on video games, computer games and the Internet.

“This is something parents are both concerned and curious about. But it’s not enough to just raise awareness — we must increase our knowledge. That means putting our money where our minds are and investing in new research,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman targeted video games as a major source of concern, claiming that “Grand Theft Auto III,” a popular PlayStation 2 game, promotes a strong link between sex and violence.

“We know conclusively that heavy consumption of media violence can have harmful developmental consequences — desensitizing children to the effects of real-life violence, making them prone toward aggressive behavior, and encouraging them to treat violence as an acceptable and effective way to resolve conflict,” Lieberman said.

The argument that there is a link between youth media consumption and violent or aggressive behavior has been persistent for quite some time, said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition in New York City, a First Amendment advocacy organization.

“We are supportive of continuing research. However, the intention of the senators to limit the research to the media seems to be suggesting where they want to find the blame. If we’re talking about violence and aggression in children here, which is a very complicated issue, we should encourage researchers to explore a variety of possibilities.” Horowitz said.

The nature of this type of research has always been questionable and open to interpretation, Horowitz said. “It is very easy to draw out different conclusions from the same study in the interest of political agenda.”

Lieberman and Brownback also said their legislation would not promote censorship, but instead would help to empower parents to make informed decisions about what their children should be watching, according to the statement.

But Horowitz disagrees.

“They are actively suggesting content change and have made it clear that they’re talking about censorship,” Horowitz said.

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