BEHIND THE VIOLENCE IN MEDIA CENSORS

by: Randy Payton

They're at it again.

Politicians convening congressional hearings to calling for censorship of popular culture as a "negative influence" upon America's youth is nothing new.

This week John McCain will chair the "Marketing Violence to Children" hearing with Sen. Joe Lieberman expected to testify. Since Lieberman and McCain are the co-sponsors of the Violence in Media bill mandating the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to rate and label all recordings, videos and even the Internet as to their "levels of violence" it's not a stretch to suggest these guys do not enter these hearings with an open mind! Never mind that a link between violence in the media and violence in the larger society has yet to be established, these guys not only act like there HAS been such a link established but are proceeding with censorious legislation like there's no First Amendment!

The history of using the congressional hearing to censor-by- intimidation America's creative community is a long and sordid one, always with bad, sad results:

In the 1930's the censors of the day "went after" the film industry (which they deemed "dangerous to public decency"), intimidating the film industry into acceptance of the stultifying Production Code, effectively retarding the U.S. film industry in innumerable ways for decades.

As part of the Kefauver hearings and social hysteria over "juvenile delinquency" in the 1950s, hearings were convened to bring the then-booming comic book industry to heel, after which (with national distributors now fully intimidated) the comics industry accepted an impossibly restrictive Comics Code Authority, wiping out the renowned, legendary EC horror line and hundreds of other comics booming at the time, hampering development of the artform for decades --and very nearly destroying the industry altogether!

In the 1980's, a group of well-connected politicians' wives--the so- called Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC--used their husbands' positions to convene hearings over lyrics to rock 'n roll songs by Prince and others. With legislation directly effecting the recording industry already before congress hanging over their heads, the PMRC was able by 1990 to brow-beat recording execs into acceptance of the rating ("stickering") of records. This so- called "voluntary" system has been utilized as part of every single scheme at (the state legislative level) SINCE to penalize music buyers and sellers, often with mandated stiff fines --and even prison sentences for violators! So much for the LIE of "Tipper's stickers" being no more than an innocuous "consumer's aid" for parents!

The current campaign against "Violence in the Media" found it's big impetus through shameless exploitation of the Columbine shootings, with no less than VP Al Gore calling a press conference within hours of the tragedy to denounce "violent" video games and "irresponsible" online Internet execs. Even Tipper Gore herself re- emerged in the public spotlight, taking to the Larry King show and elsewhere, intimating "violence" in movies and on the Internet as "perhaps" a major factor in the Columbine tragedy. Opportunism at it's most shameless!

Today, two and a half years after Columbine, violent crime is at it's lowest levels since 1973 and "the chances (of a fatal school shooting)...literally one in a million" (according to criminal justice scholar James Alan Fox, quoted in the recently-released Media Coalition report Shooting the Messenger, Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence). Yet whole (well-connected) groups are started, press conferences called and congressional hearings convened, targeting "violence" in movies, video games--and even professional wrestling!--as largely "responsible" for violence in the larger society, particularly among youth.

A group currently pushing this unsubstantiated line big-time is Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council (PTC), an offshoot of Bozell's right-wing think-tank the Media Resource Center. Though the PTC is best known for it's calls to companies to pull it's advertising from TV professional wrestling programs (see related article) it's membership includes the likes of Sen. Brownback and (now-VP candidate) Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Brownback in recent weeks convened a hearing on the "effects of violence in media" and called a press conference announcing four different associations of health professionals supposedly signing on to a "report" identifying "a link between youth violence and violence in the media." Problem is, at least one association, the American Medical Association has since made it clear that not only had no one from the AMA read said report but there was in fact never any such completed report TO read! Brownback plays fast and loose with the facts, to say the least.

For Paul McMasters, First Amendment Omsbudsman with the Freedom Forum, believes questions arise about such professional associations lending their good names to the likes of a Sen. Brownback. "...Policy-makers are not the only ones who deserve blame for allowing the nation's attention to be diverted from the real causes of violence and expending time, energy and resources on false solutions. There is plenty of blame to go around among:

--Health professionals, for lending their authority and credibility to this delay and denial.

--Child advocacy groups, for letting others hijack their campaigns for addressing children's real needs.

--Scholars, for failing to set the record straight when their studies are misrepresented, exaggerated and harnessed to a political agenda.

--And the rest of us, for allowing all of that to go on while our children still wait for answers."

Convening congressional hearings as a means toward censorship- by-intimidation remains a popular tactic favored today by Sen. Joe Lieberman just as such hearings were used by Lieberman's running mate and his wife 15 years ago. Lieberman is expected to testify Wednesday, September 12 at the Violence-in-Media hearing headed by Sen. John McCain. It's expected that McCain is only interested in brow-beating movie company executives.

Nina Crowley of the anti-censorship group Mass. MIC will be attending the McCain hearings (and even has an application in to testify). We'll be talking to Nina about the hearings and other issues in the next ROC-News BULLETIN. C-SPAN (http://www.c-span.org) is scheduling coverage of the hearings (broadcast time TBA). Watch for it.

Why Video Games Should Stay Violent (from THE ROC #15) http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-15/roc15-08.htm

"The Conspiracy to destroy rap will be met with a frontal assault!" (from THE ROC #15) http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-15/roc15-03.htm

1950s' PMRC Forerunners Target Comic Book Industry. (from THE ROC #6) http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-06/roc06-07.htm

Censors Be Damned! '50s' Censors Snuff ECs! (from THE ROC #6) http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-06/roc06-7b.htm

Today's Comics Creators Nix Industry Labeling Schemes. (from THE ROC #7) http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-07/roc07-07.htm



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