Does TV damage children?

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As television reels from the blows of the Great TV Phone Scandal along comes Dr Aric Sigman to land another uppercut. The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Mirror all cover Sigman’s speech to the MediaWatch-UK event in which he railed against the effects of TV on children and called for a ban on all TV viewing for the under-3s (The Times covered the article on which the speech was based back in February).
Protecting children from the harmful effects of TV is clearly in fashion. OFCOM have banned junk food ads during children’s programmes, Compass has written a scary report on the Commercialisation of Childhood in which TV plays a lead role, and the Telegraph is running a Hold On To Childhood campaign.
But it’s odd that so many newspapers should pick up on this story – and report it so uncritically. Only two mention that the speech was at an event organised by the campaigning organisation MediaWatch-UK, and only one refers to Sigman’s previous publication ‘Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives’. The reports refer to other studies which confirm Sigman’s findings, but none which contradict them, or even those which illustrate the complexity of this issue. The Guardian refers to ‘a growing body of research’ and mentions a 2004 study by Cornell University about TV and autism (but doesn’t link to it). The Telegraph doesn’t refer to any other studies, pro or anti, and the Mail helpfully tells us that Sigman originally made his argument ‘In a report in a science journal’ (it’s in The Biologist and available online). The only report to find someone with an alternative perspective is the BBC’s (not bylined).
Even if you have sympathy for Sigman’s criticisms (which I do) they are less credible if not questioned or put in proper context. Why is it that news organisations so often seem to accept what scientists say so uncritically?

Written by Martin Moore

April 24th, 2007 at 1:30 pm

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One Response to 'Does TV damage children?'

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  1. Thanks Martin for in some small way deflating this nonsense. OK – here comes a small self-promotion – I am the co-author of a book published by Pan Macmillan here in Australia last year, called Why TV Is Good For Kids. We called it this as a way of getting back at the absurd extreme claims of people like Sigman. People like Sigman start from this position – TV is a pile of thermo-nuclear waste in your lounge room. It’s typical of an alarmist approach -usually from angry American psychologists – that seek to pathologise normal everyday behaviour – like watching TV.Two hundred years ago it was the novel that was going to corrupt young minds, then radio, then comic books. In 1969, earnest psychologists warned that watching Sesame Street was akin to letting your kids be baby-sat by Fidel Castro.The bottom line is this – the gold standard for research is done by University of London academic, Professor David Buckingham who has done what Sigman will never do – actually go and talk to kids – thousands of them. They are not zombies. They are not sponges. They like great TV and mercilessly make fun of poor TV.And it’s up to parents to take some responsibility and make sure that kids balance TV with other activities and make sure kids are watching age-appropriate material.Even a conservative body like the American Academy of Paediatrics released a new report on television viewing for children aged 3 to 6 which said, “Educational programmes are successful in broadening young children’s knowledge, affecting their racial attitude and increasing their imaginativeness.”Aric Sigman is just the latest in a depressingly long line of “experts” who throw their hands in the air and yell – The children are in danger!!Duncan FineSydneyAustralia

    Duncan Fine

    3 May 07 at 12:44 am

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