Unification News for July and August 1998

Committee Session One: Family in the Media and the Culture

by Tim Elder

Arnaud de Borchgrave (Chairman):

Journalistic standards have declined even further since the World Media Associationís last meeting in November, 1997, despite expectation by some that major improvements might be on the way. The mediaís focus on the alleged sexual affairs of the U.S. president is one illustration of this. Discussion of explicit sexual matters on television news programs has become such that some parents feel they cannot allow their young children to watch. The meteoric rise in the ratings of one talk show that deals with explicit sexual matters and features frequent displays of physical violence is another illustration of the continuing dumbing down of the media, the family and family values. Meanwhile television executives are still in denial on the influence that TV violence has on the behavior of children. Serious discussions related to matters of national security are often ignored by the media.

The proportion of Americans that surf the Internet for news has risen dramatically to 40%. Now, irresponsible reporting blankets the earth faster than ever before. There are journalists who care about family and family values, but very few of them work in Washington. There, journalists generally treat family values as a right-wing issue that lies outside the mainstream. They are busy building their power bases, and donít pay attention to global trends. The Y2K problem, for example, has not been given nearly the attention that the seriousness of its implications would warrant.

Don Feder:

The New York Times coverage of the current controversy in New York on extending the privileges of married couples to domestic partnerships (heterosexual and homosexual) illustrates the failure of the media to cover social trends affecting the family in an informative, balanced and responsible manner. In its initial article of several thousand words, the Times failed to acknowledge any dissent to the new policy, and offered no speculation on the lawís impact on families. Later articles acknowledged dissent, but also included material that served to undercut the impact of such dissent. The paper reported on John Cardinal OíConnorís stinging rebuke of the new law, for example, but then went on portray the cardinal as being out of step with American Catholics.

The issue is treated as one of civil rights, instead of as a threat to family stability. The Times never asks and rarely allows others to speculate on the impact of government sanction of fornication and perversion on the family. When marriage loses its exclusivity, it loses much of its attraction. The number of heterosexual couples in America who are living together is rising much more rapidly than the number of married couples. Putting "relationships" on par with those who have made a lifelong commitment accelerates the decline of the family. For my colleagues in the fourth estate, these are non-issues.

Robert Wussler:

The influence of mass media on public opinions and perceptions needs to be harnessed to help reverse the erosion of the family unit and family values. Among the mass media, television remains the most effective and influential. Since its invention more than 50 years ago, television has been the ultimate propaganda tool for both good and evil purposes.

In its infancy, television was already the preferred medium to distribute news, sports and entertainment. When it became the dominant medium sometime after World War II, television allowed its viewers around the globe to share Ė although passively Ė in the same message. The global village was truly born. During the Vietnam War, television gave viewers vivid images and sound of the horrors of war. With the introduction of satellites, important events such as a man walking on the moon could be witnessed by people around the world.

Recently, other media have come to the scene, including the Internet. The World Wide Web is threatening to become a significant marketing force, but it certainly wonít replace television, at least for a long time to come. Soon there will be 100 million households with television in America. U.S. households average over seven hours daily of television.

To deliver the messages of understanding, benevolence and respect, it is crucial to target the appropriate media, the right television programs. Otherwise the unprecedented power of television to deliver the powerful message will be lost forever. It is time to maximize the positive communication potential of television.

Humphrey Hawksley:

No emotion is more universal than those related to family ties. When journalists understand the family and the motivations in people that spring from the family, they will be able to explain the world much better to their audiences.

In China (where the presenter headed the BBCís bureau) the one-child policy is having a profound long-term impact on the family structure. Thousands of young girls are being abandoned by those who would prefer to have sons. The current young generation does not have siblings. The next generation will not have aunts and uncles. The extended family that we associate with Chinese society will cease to exist. Also, a 1995 eugenics law in fact bans people from having children who are born with mental or physical defects.

At a hospital in a Cambodian town, I came across a situation where a nurse had caused the death of some patients by substituting water for the medicine in their saline drips. She did it to sell the medicine for money she needed to feed her family. In her society, this was justified in a certain sense, because her motivation was for her family.

In my own situation, my wife became pregnant with triplets. The babies were born prematurely in an emergency procedure. One child died hours after birth, and a second within a week. The doctor in Hong Kong told me the usual procedure was simply to throw the body away. Even in the sophisticated society of Hong Kong, a failed birth is considered a loss of face. I had to take control to provide my children with a proper baptism and funeral.

My wife and I have returned to England and totally rearranged our lives to accommodate the needs of our remaining son, who has been diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

Question and Answer session:

Question for Mr. Wussler: The primary reason that the images from Vietnam had such an impact was that there was no censorship. Do you agree?

Mr. Wussler: There was a degree of censorship. The fact network evening news programs led their broadcast with the story every night gave viewers a heightened awareness of the war. The decade of the 60s was caldron of violence that built up to crescendo in 1968 and 1969. TV got out of studio the late 50s, but in the 60s TV became a meaningful device. Vietnam fit into that. We saw more things,

Question for Mr. Wussler: You said the World Wide Web will not replace the TV, but the technology is moving so rapidly that itís difficult to make such predictions.

Mr. Wussler: Computers are not used nearly as much as television. Maybe ten years from now, the television will be replaced. It wonít happen in the next three to five years.

Question for Mr. Feder: Iíve been married more than 27 years and I have an intact marriage. I am from an intact family. I canít see how any two men or two women who want to live together can have any impact on my intact marriage. On the other hand, violence on TV does have an impact. Children view 10,000 hours of TV before they are 15, and most of these hours are filled with violent behavior. Those who produce films, movies, videos are making a great profit. What sanctions do you suggest against those who produce such materials and make a profit?

Mr. Feder: It may not hurt you, but it hurts your society. I donít think homosexuality is something we want to encourage. Itís a disease ridden, violent life-style. Society wants to nurture the normal, not the abnormal. Society needs to encourage those who will nurture the next generation. In terms of violence on TV, I agree. To a large extent, movies and TV shape society.

Mr. Wussler: We must remember that we live in a democracy. Once, we tried to outlaw drinking. Now, we are trying to do so with tobacco. To set sanctions against those who make the programming is not what this country is about. The TV rating system has an impact, though not enough. The program "South Park," for example, stresses the devaluation of family and society. They have the right to do that.

Question for Mr. Hawksley: China has major population problem. What solutions would you advocate?

Mr. Hawksley: As a purely economic and political matter, Chinaís experiment is working. In the past 15 years, China has take 300 to 400 million people out of poverty. On the other hand, when you see a woman being dragged off for a forced abortion, or when you see the longing in the eyes of a person who wants a child, it makes you wonder about the extent to which such dictatorial methods can be justified. Part of the problem is that there is no meaningful exchange of ideas in Chinese society today.

Q. There are traffic laws. What canít we have laws and regulations regarding content on TV and WWW? Why canít we have laws against certain type of programming, and have police enforce these?

Mr. De Borchgrave: We have created a global village without a police department. We need new global standards, comparable to what happened in the 1930s when a global standard was adopted for civil aviation.

Mr. Wussler: It would be almost impossible to accomplish what you are saying. To make a change in 2020, you have to start today. By that time Internet will be hundreds of times faster. You canít block ideas, even bad ones.

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