One of the reasons I launched this blog was due to the media’s ineffective and ill-served use of their power to inform/persuade. I wrote to some of the top media companies in 2009 and said, “The Surgeon General has said that family violence is now at an epidemic level.1 The United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect has concluded that child abuse and neglect in the United States now represents a national emergency.”2
“If all children see in the media is that sex and violence are the normal approaches to solving life’s problems, that is what they will learn to imitate. Therefore,
- If you feel the only way to earn money or make ratings is to focus on aggressive sex and violence, why can’t you also show the realistic results of these behaviors on the victims?
- Are your writers and advertisers so unimaginative that they cannot develop entertaining programs around acceptable behavior?”
Shown below are first the names of the people I wrote to and second the names and responses I got from these top executives.
- AOL Time Warner – Richard Parsons, Chairman and CEO: Response from Corporate Communications Senior Vice President: “The vast majority of what our company produces is consumed by people who are consistently pleased with its quality and value. What is at issue here is a handful of products that deal with themes and issues that some audiences find offensive. This is an inevitable consequence of the artistic process that infuses everything we do. In instances where our movies or music contain sexually explicit or violent situations, we follow accepted industry practices by labeling our products with the appropriate warnings and ratings information.”
- Viacom, Inc. – Sumner Redstone, Chairman and CEO: Response from Corporate Relations Vice President: “We at Viacom abhor violence in our society, but we understand that freedom of expression is central to a free society. Clearly, some forms of entertainment are not appropriate for children. We take our responsibility seriously, and we have strict standards and consistently reject material that is inappropriate for certain age groups.”
- Tribune Company – Dennis FitzSimons, Chairman and CEO: Response from Dennis FitzSimons: “It is difficult to reply to your letter generically. I am not sure if you are specifically referencing any Tribune-owned media outlets and if so, what specifically is troubling you about their content. Your point is well taken about the sex and violence on television. As a parent, I understand. Although I can only speak for Tribune television stations across the country (versus competing networks and cable television), we make every effort to offer our viewers the highest quality programming with special emphasis on younger viewers.”
- Gannett Company – Douglas McCorkindale, Chairman, President and CEO: Response from Corporate Communications Vice President: “Gannett is very concerned about the increase of family violence. Your letter seems to point to the media as the cause of the problem of violence in our society. The problem is much deeper than the media’s reporting on, or portrayal of, violence. We believe the media is a reflection of the society in which we live. Gannett is a news and information company. We monitor the programs – and sometimes reject shows – but find we are providing the public the programming they want. In the end, we don’t have any power to force people to watch or read anything. As the owner of news organizations, we also have a responsibility to the First Amendment of the Constitution. To uphold Freedom of the Press, we need to fairly report on the society, plus fairly allow others – such as advertisers and artists – a voice. So we agree on the seriousness of the problem, and we are contributing to the solution – not only through our Foundation but also by making sure we all are aware of the horrors of family violence. That is our role and our duty.”
- Clear Channel Communications – Lowry Mays, Chairman and CEO: NO RESPONSE
- General Electric Company – Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chairman and CEO: NO RESPONSE
- The News Corporation, Ltd. Company – Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO: NO RESPONSE
Law and Order is one of the few television shows that have consistently shown the long-term impact of interpersonal violence. They also send strong messages that it is not okay to rape and assault people. The pattern over the years, though, in too many shows is to increase viewership by glamorizing violence and presenting it as “normal behavior.”
There needs to be more programming showing healthy self-management skills and respect for others. As I said in my letters to the media CEOs, their writers don’t seem like they can come up with wholesome, family entertainment anymore. That’s what I lament.
1 The Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, 1999
2 “Protecting Children From Abuse and Neglect: Foundation for a New National Strategy,” Edited by Gary B. Melton and Frank D. Barry, 1994