10 December 2003


(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 9 December (UN Information Service) -- The World Electronic Media Forum this afternoon held a round table on the topic of World Violence-Media Violence.  Issues raised included whether the media caused, mirrored or contributed to resolving human conflicts, and to what extent electronic media could play a part in education and social cohesion. 

Panel speakers noted that the subject of violence in society was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon.  Many focused on the difficulty of limiting violence in the information media, whilst still respecting freedom of speech and freedom of reporting.  A number of speakers noted that use of violence should never be done merely in the search to improve ratings or to entertain the viewer. 

Violence, Markus Schaechter, Director-General of ZDF, noted, was a constant in all human societies, and although there was a need to portray events, there was concern for the increase of violence in video-games and films, and in particular for its portrayal as entertainment.  There was also a need to bear in mind, particularly in the case of children, its potential for desensitization, and even dehumanization.

Psychologist Serge Tisseron, Director of Research at Paris X-Nanterre, did not believe in a catharsis brought on by images of violence.  The impact of such programmes was high on children, as research had proved, since children felt fear, disgust and anger when viewing such images.  However, children often found their own means of removing themselves emotionally from the impact of violent images.

Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, who worked on the promotion of press freedom and media pluralism at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), also disagreed that violence on screen was a catharsis, saying that such an amount of violence was more of a poison for the minds and souls of children.  He hoped that one day civil society would boycott the companies who advertised in such programmes.

Violence and its portrayal as a political tool was also an issue brought up by several speakers, including Marcel Granier, President of the Board of Directors and General Manager of Radio Caracas Television, and it was noted that there was a need for the greatest respect of democratic standards in this area.  Mr. Granier said that in parts of the world, governments used television as a means of promoting violence against their opponents.  He mentioned the language of hatred that could be used by those working within the media, specifically speaking about the situation in Venezuela.

Mohammad Honardoost, Vice President of IRIB-Iran, noted that the electronic media had undergone immense technological development, but this was not paralleled in human terms.  There was in fact an immense gap between the two, a form of cultural delay.  The electronic media should not only oppose the idea of violence, but should try to promote friendship, kindness, and human tolerance.  He noted that the programme on Iran screened during the opening ceremony was incorrect.  The people in Iran should be left in peace to make their own decisions, and should have their own views and freely-elected government respected.

Serge Balima of the University of Ouagadougou said that it was clear that the pictures of violence and those of poor countries and Africans were shown in a linked manner.  There were no ethical limits imposed on such pictures.  There was an apparent divide in media treatment, which ran parallel to divides in economic and social matters, and African countries did not appear to be doing anything to remedy this issue.  He hoped that greater democracy would help to protect the social needs within States.

Armin Walpen, Director-General of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, speaking of violence in the news, said presenting violence required a certain control not just over content but over form.  News value was the priority, even if there was a propaganda effect, such as in the Iraq war, but only to the effect of demonstrating the propaganda.  Repeated screening of violence should be avoided, and there should be respect for death. 

Another theme was “When TV promotes peace” which focused on the example of Young Asia TV in Sri Lanka, with the showing of a programme on the station.  Also projected were images of violence, including from video games and animation films.

The moderator of the session was Denise Epote Durand of TV5, who noted that the subject of world violence-media violence was very topical.  Could the media be manipulated, she asked, and what was the role played by local media in conflicts, such as in Rwanda?  She hoped that the speakers would help to find answers to these issues.

The World Electronic Media Forum round tables will continue over the next few days, in parallel with the World Summit for the Information Society.  Both meetings will conclude on Friday, 12 December.

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