Obama wants national conversation in wake of killings

The White House says that President Obama’s actions in response to the Connecticut shootings may include “conversations” delving into “cultural issues,” raising the prospect of further study of violent movies and videogames.

In the daily press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “one of the reasons why the president wants to expand the net beyond considerations of gun laws is because he recognizes that and agrees with it that we need to look broadly at all of the potential contributors to the scourge of gun violence in this country.”

He was responding to a question about a tweet that David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign, sent on Sunday: “In NFL post-game: an ad for shoot ‘em up videogame. All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn’t we also quit marketing murder as a game?”

Carney said that the White House doesn’t have “a specific proposal to tell you about, or even that there will be one.”

Obama “wants to have these conversations with people who have worked on this issue and people who are affected by it to explore all the possibilities, to move forward with a broad approach that addresses gun violence, that includes sensible legislation to deal with things like assault weapons and gun show loopholes, magazine capacity, potentially, as well as other issues — mental health issues, education issues and perhaps cultural issues.”

The MPAA and the Electronic Software Assn., which represents developers of videogames, have been silent even as some lawmakers, as well as some in the entertainment industry, have called for a study or discussion of violence in the media to be part of the response to the shootings. One D.C. studio source said that so far, there has been an attitude of “wait and see” until Obama issues a set of proposals.

But two parents’ orgs on Tuesday called for some action on media depictions of violence.

A spokeswoman for Common Sense Media — which advocates on behalf of kids and families “to improve the media landscape” — said that they were sending a letter to commissioners of the NBA and the NFL “asking them to stop allowing ads for ultra-violent videogames during their games — programming that airs during daytime or primetime slots and is seen by millions of children who are too young to play such games. “After the events of the past weekend, the time is now to try to change the culture of violence in this country, and marketing is one way to do that,” she said.

The Parents Television Council, a prominent watchdog of broadcast and cable programming, praised the networks for pulling some violent programming in the wake of the shootings, but its president, Tim Winter, said in a statement, “If a television network changes its programming because of content that could be insensitive today, why would that same content be appropriate at a later time? If a music mogul makes a passionate plea for civility, why would there be a later time to profit from lyrics and videos that eschew civility? If producers and performers rightly question whether their industry is complicit in creating a violent media culture that feeds real-life tragedies, why would there be a later time to produce and distribute more of it?”

He also pointed to a study suggesting a relationship between violent programming and aggressive behavior among children. “The entire business premise of entertainment media is the behavior change of the consumer,” he said.

The American Medical Assn., the American Psychological Assn. and the American Academy of Pediatrics have supported the view that there is a link between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior in children. In the wake of Columbine, the AMA said it’s naive “to suggest that entertainment media is the greatest factor to blame” but also naive “to pretend that a steady diet of death and destruction … doesn’t in some way contribute to the problem of real-life violence.”

Nevertheless, the film business and the videogame industry have in the past said that the links are inconclusive at best. In an interview after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist at the U. of Toronto and author of “Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing Scientific Evidence,” challenged that there was a link. Overall, he noted, the violent crime rate has gone down since 1990, while violent movies have proliferated and violent videogames have emerged as a multibillion-dollar industry.

Some media commentators, including Arianna Huffington, have warned that a “national conversation” on the violent culture will end up delaying genuine action on gun control, with debate diverted and delayed.

After the Columbine massacre in 1999, President Bill Clinton called for the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a study on the entertainment industry’s marketing of violent content to children. A year later, the FTC found that companies “routinely undercut their own rating restrictions by target marketing violent films, records and videogames to young audiences.” It also found lax controls on the sale of music and games with parental advisory labels to minors, as well as of R-rated movie tickets to teens. An FTC update report last year found that compliance to voluntary ratings systems was greatest among retailers selling age-restricted videogames and worst among sellers of music CDs.

Meanwhile, the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons was allowed to expire in 2004.

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