Book community decries effort to rein in media violence as censorship

Thursday, November 30, 2000

WASHINGTON — A coalition of groups representing journalists,
authors, book publishers, booksellers and librarians expressed concern
yesterday about growing pressure to censor free speech as a way to deal with
violence in society.

In a joint statement, seven groups representing all facets of the book
community warned that the various “solutions” being proposed by lawmakers in
Washington involve government regulation of content or government pressure to
force the media to self-censor. These actions “would extract an unacceptably
high price in terms of eroding our fundamental guarantees of free expression,”
the groups said.

The statement was signed by the American Booksellers Foundation for
Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the
Association of American Publishers, the Association of American University
Presses, the Authors Guild, the Freedom to Read Foundation and PEN American

However legitimate the concerns are about violence in society, “the
proposed cures are worse than the illness,” the joint statement said.
“Censorship is not the answer to violence in society. The root causes of
violence in society lie beyond violent portrayals by the media.”

The seven groups said they were issuing the statement because there is
growing pressure to impose restrictions on the entertainment media —
including films, television, music and video games — and communications
on the Internet as a way to deal with an increasingly violent society. Those
proposals are based on the “widespread assumption of a causal link between
violent media and violent behavior,” the statement said.

But that purported link is being “seriously questioned” in a number of
circles because existing research does not support that contention, the groups

“(T)he search for solutions must go beyond facile censorship
initiatives, which inevitably compromise our fundamental freedom of expression,
and instead seek out and attack these root causes. The problem is complex; so,
too, are its solutions. There is no ‘quick fix,’ and we deceive ourselves if we
embrace the view that stifling the media messenger will blot out the sometimes
disturbing messages it conveys,” the statement said.

In addition, the groups said, it is not the proper role of government
“to evaluate the merits of expression” because no individual or group, “let
alone a governmental body, possesses the wisdom to separate ‘good’ from ‘bad’

“Judgments as to what constitutes ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ portrayals of
violence often tell us more about the sensibilities or politics of the critic
than about the ‘intrinsic worth’ of the expression,” the groups said.

“Portrayals of violence in the media reflect a violent world,” the
statement said. ” Before we too quickly condemn media portrayals of violence,
we must ask ourselves the degree to which they mirror life experience. One need
only turn on the nightly news to be reminded of the pervasiveness of violence
in our society.”

In the end, the groups said, it falls to individuals, not the
government, to determine what materials are appropriate for themselves and
their children.

“Parents must play the primary role in shaping their children’s media
choices, and they must prepare their children for the wide range of material
and information to which they will be exposed in a free society,” the groups
said. “The answer to perceived gratuitous violence or demeaning portrayals in
the media is not the heavy hand of government censorship, but the conscious
control of one’s (and one’s children’s) consumption and choices.

“The freedom to read, watch and listen also entails the privilege not
to do any of these and to discourage or prohibit one’s children from reading,
watching or listening to particular materials — at all or in excess. If
the media misread the degree of public interest in or tolerance for particular
fare — violent or otherwise — surely the swiftest way for the
public to get that message across in our free-market economy is at the box
office, the book or record store or via the channel selector of a television

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