WASHINGTON — Media giants fired back at the recent Federal Communications Commission report linking television violence to childhood aggression, saying no evidence exists to support such a conclusion.
Research claiming to support a link is “often misstated or exaggerated” as well as “inconsistent, weak and generally nonsupportive,” according to a new white paper issued Wednesday by the Media Institute, members of which include NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom, Tribune and Gannett.
Written by U. of Toronto professor Jonathan Freedman, long known for challenging the validity of most research on this topic, the paper asserts that the FCC and certain groups are dead wrong when claiming the debate is over on whether evidence exists to establish a link.
“The evidence is not overwhelming — indeed, it provides no good reason to think that television causes aggression, much less serious violence,” Freedman wrote.
In its report, the FCC said it agreed with a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General study concluding that exposure to TV violence can increase aggression in kids in the short term. Freedman disputed the claim, noting that the same study was ultimately inconclusive because of conflicting evidence.
“Rather than analyzing the conflicting evidence and opinion, the (FCC) report simply comes down on the side of those who believe television violence is harmful,” Freedman said. “There is no careful analysis of the research; there is no careful explanation of their conclusions.”
Freedman also said that statements by orgs like the American Academy of Pediatrics, referring to thousands of existing studies proving some kind of connection or link, are “wildly inaccurate.” He said the real number is about 250, only 28% of which support a link.
Moreover, he said that the majority of research on the topic suffers from serious methodological problemsFreedman’s critics have said he is “nit-picking” on experiments he reviewed. “That is not what I am doing,” he wrote in the paper. In other areas of research, he asserted, the problems he has identified “would disqualify the experiment from being published.”
Melissa Caldwell, senior director of programs for Parents Television Council — a longtime critic of TV violence and an endorser of the FCC report — said that since the Media Institute is “supported financially by the major broadcast networks, (Freedman’s) credibility is diminished substantially.”
The institute commissioned the paper and offered Freedman an honorarium, but he declined it, an institute rep said.
“Even if the social science is inconsistent,” Caldwell continued, “Prof. Freedman never addresses recent research like brain scans and other medical research” supporting a link. “He’s still fairly isolated in his position. The only research that fails to prove a connection has been done by the entertainment industry.”