Draft Submission to:
Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC)
Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes
by Jack Sonnemann, Australian Federation for the Family
PO Box 106, Canterbury, Victoria 3126, Australia
29 November 1995
It has been correctly stated that a democracy is only as good as the level of mutual respect and love between men and women who produce, care for and protect children who then are able to develop as responsible, self-governing citizens. In this important regard, Australian children are not given much of a chance. The level of protection afforded to the children of Australia from material of a sexual and violent nature is simply not good enough.
We have parliamentary "leaders" who legislate to allow our daughters to become whores. Our 16 year olds (year 10 schoolgirls) are legally allowed to be stripped naked by the pornography professionals and photographed spread-eagled as porno centrefolds. Because the OFLC refuses to place these magazines in a "ADULT ONLY" category, Australian children of ALL ages have legal, unrestricted access to offensive pornographic magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse, Picture and People.
OFLC Information Bulletin number 7 states that, "Our right to see what we please cannot be allowed to infringe the rights of others. Children and young people, in particular, must be adequately protected from material likely to harm or disturb them, and people who may be offended by certain material have a right to expect that it will not be thrust upon them against their will or without warning."
It should be pointed out that in a civilised society, persons should not have offensive material thrust upon them at all. Imagine graphic posters of Nazi death camp guards torturing and sexually molesting Jewish schoolgirls being thrust upon shoppers and pedestrians in predominantly Jewish areas, even with a warning.
Australia's regulatory agencies have failed miserably according to the OFLC existing guidelines. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Moslems and even those of no religious faith who find public nudity objectionable must endure prominent displays of young women, and increasingly young men, in various stages of undress and in obscene poses on the covers of the smut magazines on open display in virtually each and every petrol station, newsagent and corner shop in this nation.
The important fact that Canberra is the video porn capital of Australia and also the rape capital of Australia seems to have escaped media notice.
Inspector Sprague, head of the Spectrum Task Force set up to deal with the "Mr Cruel" schoolgirl abductions and death in Melbourne, has this to say, "I'm convinced - and the experts will say I'm wrong - there's a strong link between pornography and the amount of sex crimes we get." The so-called "experts" we have listened to in the past have not had the right answers. Clearly something different must be done.
The OFLC has been entrusted with the task of protecting children. They have not done a very good job and must recognise their 'duty', which means a moral obligation to do what is right, to better protect (censor) children from material that has been proven to cause harm. Professor Riaz Hassan from Flinders University says that youth suicide in Australia has risen five-fold since 1900 and is now the biggest killer of 15 to 19 year olds. Prof. Hassan points out that suicide used to be a problem of old age, "But since the 1960's it is the very young... who are most at risk." For every suicide in Australia - an average of 2300 each year - another 30 have attempted suicide and failed according to Hassan's research.
The significance of what people see influencing their behaviour is no longer arguable. A rocket scientist you do not have to be.
The United States Senate received testimony from the American Psychological Association documenting the link between screen violence and aggression. George Comstock and H. Paik were cited for their meta-analisys of 200 studies looking at the relationship between violent programming and aggressive behaviour in 1993. Visual imagery has been proven to have a significant impact on behaviour.
Comstock and Paik also presented a report to the National Research Council for the Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behaviour in Syracuse, New York. They stated that aggressive behaviour including "criminal activity" was significantly associated with viewing violent programming.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Dr. Victor Cline on the link between media violence and aggression. He says that the literature concerning the link between violence in the media and aggression "is rather impressive in its consistency in suggesting a variety of harms or possibility of antisocial outcomes to this material. This should not be surprising after 40 years of research on film and TV violence arriving essentially at the same conclusion."
The past President of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Dr. Brandon S. Centerwall, in an address to the annual APA convention in 1993 stated that "fully 50% of all crime and violence in society today can be blamed on television and film violence."
Centerwall writes in the American Journal of Epidemiology and warns that, "The rigourous techniques of epidemiology are too seldom brought to bear on mass media effects." He conducted a cross cultural evaluation of media as a causal factor in homicide and other aggression from the United States, Canada and South Africa, pre and post television. He found "that exposure to television violence is etiologically linked to aggression" in the same way that exposure to pornography is linked to rape. Pornographic and violent imagery are categorised by the brain in exactly the same way.
Dr. Centerwall studied an extremely unique situation involving a remote Canadian town and the impact the introduction of television had upon its children. Called "Notel" by the researchers (for no television), the town was studied using double blind design to compare 1st and 2nd grade students in "Notel" with students in two communities which already had television. Rates of physical aggression (hitting, biting and shoving) did not significantly change in the communities that already had TV, but "Notel" children increased their aggressive activity by 160% in two years.
This remarkable study, with its understandable findings, will come as no surprise to any schoolteacher or child-carer in Australia. These professionals can all readily attest to the "copy cat" aggressive behaviour of small Aussie children after the introduction of children's TV shows such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers". Now we have adult versions of these types of shows, such as "Gladiators", which would seem to be aimed at a somewhat older (at least chronologically) age group.
Some of the most telling research on the effects of TV violence and adolescent behaviour has been conducted over the last 30 years by University of Illinois psychologists Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann. The New York Academy of Sciences published some of their research which proved that "continued viewing of television violence by children can have a lasting effect on their character and personality. leading to serious criminal behaviour and antisocial violence of all types."
Eron and Huesmann document the fact that "the single best predictor we have as to how aggressive a young person would be at age 19 is the violence of the television programmes he preferred when he was eight years old."
In his opening address to the Symposium on Media Violence and Pornography in Toronto Canada, University of Pennsylvania's Dr. George Gerbner stated that the more time a child spends in the television world, the more he or she tends to give a distorted "television answer" in response to questions about real-life situations. By bombarding viewers with images of mistrust, apprehension, sexual promiscuity and danger, the broadcasting industry has tended to cultivate in many viewers an exaggerated sense of the world as a more dangerous and sexually permissive place in which to live. Young people especially are more vulnerable to this sensory suggestibility.
Author David Pearl illustrates the powerful impact of this "television answer" in his "The Social Impact of Television Violence". He writes, "Adolescents in Vancouver were asked about police behaviour. They were divided into heavy, medium and light viewers of television. The adolescents studied were asked how violent the police were in Vancouver. The Vancouver Police department, parenthetically, is
one of the least violent in the world and did not fire a single shot at, much less wound or kill anyone during the time period. The heaviest adolescent viewers reported the Vancouver Police to have killed and wounded numerous people, innocent bystanders as well as criminals." This study gives us a powerful illustration of what is known as the "television answer".
Similarly, research carried out by Professor Dolf Zillman has found that heavy consumers of pornography, when asked about their perceptions of sexuality and dispositions about sexual behaviour, are the most likely to give a "pornography answer". They report perceptions of sexuality and sexual behaviour congruent with the 'hypersexualised', shallow, callous and deviant depictions of pornographers.
Zillman notes that many people, children especially, are immensely vulnerable in the area of sexual information and are prone to adopt an unexamined "pornography answer". That may help explain why Australian Police are increasingly having to deal with more and more cases of young children from 7 to 12 years of age violently and sexually assaulting younger playmates, neighbours and siblings. Children are taught from birth to imitate adult behaviour and TV is teaching them that violence is an acceptable means of settling disputes and that deviant, promiscuous sexual activity is normal.
The proliferation of sexual and violent images in the Australian media has contributed greatly toward confusing our children. During a recent Sydney conference attended by international experts on children's television it was revealed that research confirms that children are developing "distorted perceptions of reality" as a result of being unable to distinguish between real and fictitious violence on the screen.
Professor Kenneth Hirsch from California State University has compiled information on screen violence since 1968. He told the conference that his studies had found that children who took a long time to distinguish between real and make believe television images would often "end up in institutions". Children who have difficulty distinguishing fantasy and reality are the most vulnerable to the mental aberrations caused by 'toxic media'.
Professor Hirsch has identified "at least three consequences empirically linked to viewing media violence." They are "1) violent behaviour, 2) distorted perceptions of reality and 3) a tolerance of real-life aggressive behaviour."
The conference was also addressed by Professor Anne Allbright from the University of Pennsylvania. She warned that children are not capable of understanding the content of many programmes to which they have unrestricted access in Australia. She says, "Research proves that children who watch a lot of violence on television were more likely to become criminals than those who were protected from violent images on the screen."
The explosive research findings of 24 top media researchers and policy makers has been documented in "Don't Touch That Dial: The Impact of the Media on Children and the Family". "Given the diversity of participants, they reached a surprising consensus that values in much of the mass media, especially in violent and sexually explicit materials, are on a collision course with traditional family values and the protection of children. Graphic violence and explicit sexual depictions are extremely harmful to children and adults."
"Don't Touch That Dial" also documents "1) violent depictions increase the amount of aggressive tendency and produce fear and anxiety for certain viewers: 2) sexually explicit material dramatically changes attitudes about normal sexuality, gender roles, marriage relationships and effective child rearing. If viewed over time it will affect behaviour and may eventually lead to sexual deviance. In fact, clinical data demonstrates that early [sexual] exposure (before age 12) and sexual experience are the best single indicators of later sexual deviant, addiction, and antisocial behaviour."
In "Primal Screen, Kids: TV Violence and Real Life Behaviour" the Washington Post of 7 April 1992 reports that "Television can cause aggressive behaviour and can cultivate values favouring the use of aggression."
Researching TV violence for the last 30 years, George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania has documented that "exposure to TV violence desensitises viewers to acts of violence and sometimes incites viewers to violence."
Reporting on 5 volumes of research by the US National Institute of Mental Health, the US Surgeon General released "Television and Growing Up: the Impact of Television Violence". The report concluded that there is a "causal relationship between children's viewing of violent programmes and subsequent behaviour."
Recognising that existing measures are inadequate, experts in London admitted they had seriously underestimated the effects of screen violence on children. Professor Elizabeth Newson, head of Nottingham University Child Psychology Unit, says a recent paper documenting hundreds of research studies and endorsed by 25 other psychologists, psychiatrists and education specialists "shows new evidence of links between violent entertainment and aggressive behaviour among children."
Newson mentions one British study of "40 adolescent murders and 200 young sex offenders showed repeated viewing of violent and pornographic videos were a significant causal factor."
One of Professor Newson's supporters is Professor Andrew Simms, head of Psychiatry at Leeds University and past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He says, "Some of those people who denied the link back in the 1970's would find incredible the torrent of media violence now available. Watching specific acts of violence has resulted in mimicry by children and adolescents of behaviour they would have otherwise, literally, have found unimaginable."
The American Psychological Association, according to US Senator Paul Simon, has joined "The American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Surgeon General" who all "agree that TV violence is harming children and causing violence in society."
Serious researchers, medical professionals, scientists and top media professionals across the world have been in agreement for some time concerning the harmful impact of the mass media in society today, especially in relationship to children.
Although there are 'experts' who deny that people, even children, are influenced by what they see, these 'experts' have been likened to the so-called 'experts' used by the tobacco industry to insist that tobacco smoke contains nothing harmful. The television, film and video industry, driven by the dollar, must be called upon to act responsibly. How can they expect anyone to believe that 2 hours of violent and pornographic imagery will have no causal impact on someone's attitude and behaviour while they charge many thousands of dollars for an advertising spot of only a few seconds?
According to the evidence concerning harm, films, videotapes, movies and television broadcasting is irresponsible in Australia. Similar to the OFLC's failure to classify pornographic magazines like Penthouse and Picture in an "Adult Only" category thereby giving their seal of approval to the sale, access and display of pornography to children, is the failure of the OFLC to recognise the harmful effects of violent and pornographic programming on children in Australia.
Is the failure of the OFLC to protect Australian children from dangerous pornographic imagery due to unprofessionalism and desensitisation? John Dickie, Australia's Chief Film Censor, says that children do not get four letter words from television, they pick up bad language from within the family and that the biggest cause of violence was family upbringing with media influence at the bottom of the list. What does that statement say about Dickie's opinion of Australian families but more importantly where is his mass of evidence that contradicts all of the scientific documentation that proves otherwise?
The above paragraph was taken from an article in the national media concerning the beginning of Mr. Dickie's second 5 year term as our chief film censor. The article outlines nothing indicating that the head of the OFLC has any type of professional qualification for such an important task as determining what all of us can read, see and hear. In fact, according to the article, Dickie has previous experience as a newspaper reporter and a press officer and would now be well into his 7th year of looking at pornographic and violent imagery, presumably on a daily basis.
Psychological desensitising occurs in those who are "massively" exposed to pornographic and violent imagery rendering them dysfunctional in regards to determining what is right or wrong. Well respected, international science magazine, The New Scientist, dramatically illustrates the effects of "massive exposure" to pornographic imagery with a cover story entitled, "The Power Of Pornography".
The University of Canada at Manitoba conducted a study and exposed groups of students to greater and lesser amounts of pornographic imagery. These students were then shown a rape trial where the rapist admitted guilt and were then asked to hand down a sentence. The groups who were massively exposed to pornography handed down 1/2 the rape sentence of the other groups. This study has been replicated and presents what is known as the "trivialisation of rape". According to The New Scientist this 'trivialisation' occurs in all viewers, male and female, after being massively exposed to pornographic imagery with massive exposure being less than 5 hours over 6 weeks!
Mr Dickie is also quoted as saying, "While sex and coarse language fade quickly from memory, violence lingers." This ridiculous remark gives us a graphic example of what would appear to be serious desensitisation or just gross ignorance. Whatever the reason, his comment prompted the following statement from prominent media analyst Dr. Judith Reisman, Director of The Institute for Media Education in the United States:
"Such a remark, representing the [Censorship] Board or its leadership, is manifestly unscientific, unprofessional and dangerous, considering the knowledge required by those censoring the nation's media. FACT: sex and coarse language do not 'fade quickly' from memory. On the contrary, memory is coarsened by continued exposure to coarse language and sexual stimuli. Barring neurological impairment, sex is a high stimuli experience. It is precisely the memory acquisition process which eventually desensitises receivers regarding what is coarse or sexual. By definition, Mr. Dickie and the board are desensitised to sexual or coarse stimuli due to exposure."
Popular folklore has it that television violence and pornography are more pervasive in the US than in Australia. However, like so much of popular folklore, this widely accepted belief is simply not true. The violent and pornographic imagery permeating the Australian broadcast medium is much more objectionable than what is allowed to be broadcast over the public airwaves in the US.
Sent to Australia to report on the sleaze standard of Aussie TV, American television reporter Rick Kirkham for INSIDE EDITION, says that "Your exposure of sex and permissiveness is much more liberal (than in the US). There's no nudity on network TV in the US... I've seen things here I couldn't believe. I would go to jail for putting the same stuff on TV at home." Kirkham reports that "There are seven words banned on US television and in the few days I've been here I've heard four of them on your daytime TV."
Sydney's Sunday Telegraph published an unbelievable interview with Dr. Patricia Edgar, the Director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation. Calling children's television "too sanitised" in Australia and in direct contradiction to the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence, the article quotes Dr. Edgar as saying,
"I fear there is a perception that television violence causes violence in the community..." Which is, of course, like saying "I fear there is a perception that I will fall to the ground if I step out of an airplane in flight"!
Uninformed and uneducated 'leaders' have little of significance to add to the debate about film and video classification. For the sake of the next generation, the disastrous effect of what has been termed 'toxic media' in Australia must be addressed and solutions to the problems must be found.
Restrictive measures have been put in place to protect Australian children from the destructive influence of gambling, alcohol and nicotine addiction. We also have 'child proof' caps on certain medicines to hinder children's access, protective helmets for bicycle riders and minimum age laws for driving and other "Adult" activities. What a shame the OFLC has not recognised the need for children to also be protected from unrestricted exposure to dangerously addictive pornographic imagery by refusing to restrict children's access to magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, People and Picture, just to name a few.
One particular problem in Australia caused by premature exposure to pornographic and violent imagery is children raping children. Why should any of the following newspaper reports surprise us? The following is learned behaviour and the children are only imitating adults, which is what they are trained from birth to do.
*BOY CHARGED WITH RAPING GIRL 6 - Perth - "A 13 year old Perth schoolboy has been charged with raping his 6 year old neighbour while she was visiting his home..." (Examiner 7 April 95)
*YOUTH CHARGED OVER RAPE OF GIRL 6 - Melbourne - "A 16 year old charged with the rape of a 6 year old girl in a primary school toilet block last week..." (Examiner 4 April 1995)
*TAPES 'TAUGHT BOY TO RAPE' - "A 12 year old boy accused along with a 10 year old girl of raping a 7 year old girl may have learned some of the behaviour by watching pornographic videos..." (Sunday Examiner 5 Dec 1993)
These are just a few examples. Sadly, this list goes on and on and on...
Not only do we have a problem of children raping children in Australia, according to reputable international studies and police agencies such as Interpol, we have a big problem with rape in general. In fact, any number of studies show that women in Australia are raped more than anywhere else in the world. Studies such as:
- Criminal Victimisation in the Industrialised World, by the Dutch Ministry of Justice in the Hague in 1993, found that "Australia had the highest levels of sex attacks in the industrialised world."
- Without Consent, a European Community survey screened on ABC television on 16 & 23 September 1992 and reported in Sydney's Sun Herald of 30 August 92, pointed out that "Australia was the highest country in the world for rape, indecent assault and indecent exposure."
- International Crime Survey, by the Home Office in London in April 94 documents that "Australians are at a greater risk of sexual assault than people in any other developed country."
- A Comparison of Crime in Australia and Other Countries, Trends and Issues paper no. 23, published by our own Institute of Criminology found that Australia leads the world in "assaults involving force" and "sexual incidents against women."
JAPANESE WARNED OF RAPE IN AUSTRALIA headlined an article in the Australian. Our national newspaper reports that the Foreign Ministry in Japan issues a rape warning to Japanese women who apply for a tourist visa and says, "Australia, along with New Zealand and Peru, has been ranked in an official Japanese Government survey as having the highest rate of rape in the world."
At public hearings conducted in Melbourne when David Jones was the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal he went so far as to say, "There is nothing on Australian television, at any time day or night, that is indecent, obscene or blasphemous". A brief glance at Aussie television will confirm to ANY viewer that it is full of such material yet when questioned about his definition of these terms, Mr Jones stated for the public record that he did not care what the Oxford English Dictionary said, he had his own definitions.
Clearly, something different must be done. The violent and pornographic imagery that abounds in Australia is most certainly playing a decisive role in the shocking increase of the sexual assault rate Down Under.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice, Sir William Kearney, sentencing a 22 year old man found guilty of attempting to sexually assault a woman in public, blames the "widespread availability of porn movies" for the increase in crimes of rape and attempted sexual assault. He says, "Society needs protecting from such stimulants. People who think there is no connection between pornography and the violent and bizarre crimes that come before the courts, ought to do the case studies."
The Sun Herald begins an article linking media pornography and violence with real-life "copy cat" crimes by saying, "NSW Coroner Kevin Waller is not the first Australian legal officer to lash out against the ready availability of hard-core pornography and graphic depictions of extreme violence."
Melbourne County Judge Hart says that "the community was apparently encouraging and condoning, if not promoting the production and distribution of pornographic videos - and that such videos could clearly be expected to influence the sexual behaviour of 'susceptible' people." Judge Hart warns that because of the "unrestricted rights of so-called adults to watch X-Rated videos, the community will have to tolerate the terrible effects."
Mr. Justice O'Brien in Melbourne Central Criminal Court says, "Despite what some psychiatrists and others say, the danger of pornographic material becomes more apparent to those of us who have to deal with these crimes."
In sentencing a youth in Burnie Criminal Court, Mr. Justice Cosgrove said "he hoped the case would stand as an example to those people who claimed there was no connection between pornography and rape."
Despite these, and many other, authoritative international studies; despite the national surveys conducted by such groups as the Australian Bureau of Statistics; despite the opinions of the most prominent legal minds in Australia and despite the united voices of such groups as the American Medical, Pediatric, Psychological and Psychiatric Associations, there are still groups of people who continue to spread the dangerous lie that there is no link between media presentation and public behaviour. Such groups should be treated with nothing more than contempt.
After viewing all the damning evidence and hearing testimony from authentic experts in the field of communications, the official government committee set up to establish the standards for Australian Pay TV voted, against the reported objections of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, to ban all X Rated material form Pay TV in Australia. After looking at the harmful effects they also voted to ban R Rated sexual and violent material until further research can be produced negating the harm factor.
Dr. Judith Reisman was called upon to give testimony before this committee and was instrumental in the decision to ban X and R Rated visual material. She had this to say, "... concern about the role of media in increasing violence is implicit in the American Psychiatric Association's 1986 endorsement of the brain and aggression scholar's Seville Statement on Violence. Here the scholars certified that increased violence and brutality largely reflects environmental training and not a genetic fact."
Signed by 20 of the world's foremost scholars at the "International Colloquium on Brain and Aggression" the Seville Statement on Violence is quoted by Dr Reisman as saying "It is scientifically incorrect to say we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors... It is scientifically incorrect to say that violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature... It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a violent brain."
Dr Reisman has thoroughly documented the conditioning role played by 'toxic' media in Australia and authoritatively insists that "The claim for a 'natural' male rape is not only thwarted by cross cultural epidemiological data, but more recently by the brain sciences."
'Toxic' media in Australia is causing an immense amount of harm.
The recent unanimous decision by the Canadian Supreme Court to proscribe pornography as harmful to women suggests a new view of balancing women's civil rights to equality against the rights of pornographers to continue to denigrate and dehumanise women. In effect, the Canadian Supreme Court decided that the women of Canada deserved more rights that the pornographers of Canada. Certainly the women, and I would add the children, of Australia deserve similar rights.
Survey data prove Americans to believe that if media really causes sexual violence, which has certainly been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that it should be strictly controlled - even banned! The US Congress has before it the Pornography Victim's Compensation Act which is only one of a series of legislative measures designed to better protect women and children in the United States from the harm caused by certain visual imagery.
Judith Reisman quotes author John Berger who says, in "Ways of Seeing" (1977) that we now live in a "language of images" rather than one of speech. He warns "what matters now is who uses that language for what purpose."
Violent and pornographic imagery teaches "fear, shame and violence towards the opposite sex, undermining love, family and the physical safety of women and children." Dehumanisation, which is the pornographer's standard, impacts upon hate crimes against women and children (often recorded as sexual or simple assaults).
Pornography, as it mitigates against women's ability to pursue their equal right to safety, to work free of harassment, to live in a secure environment, to be "adequately protected from material likely to harm or disturb them" (OFLC Guidelines), as it violates women's and children's self esteem and is unequally and differentially harmful to the entire class of 'women' and 'children', should thus be in violation of the laws of any civil society.
Attached to this submission are some recommendations from of the Australian Federation for the Family. If the OFLC wishes to protect children from the destructive influence of some elements of the media, we suggest that serious consideration be given to the immediate implementation of these sensible recommendations.
The facts speak for themselves, we hope the OFLC will speak for the facts.
prepared by: Jack Sonnemann
for : The Australian Federation for the Family
PO Box 106
Canterbury Victoria 3126