BUILDING A SAFER MEDIA: SOME THOUGHTS
Mediawatch UK’s strapline says we exist ‘for a safer media’. But what do we mean by that?
Mary Whitehouse CBE, founder and president of Mediawatch UK’s predecessor, the National Viewers’ & Listeners’ Association, once famously stated:
‘If you constantly portray violence as normal on TV you will help to create a violent society.’
Of course, the debate as to what extent media violence causes or contributes to the perpetration of violent acts in society continues today. Perhaps more widely accepted is the notion that media can desensitise us and, by default, is a powerfully validating and authoritative force.
MWUK (and NVALA before it) is often called upon to denounce certain types of media – traditionally that containing prevalent sex, violence and swearing – a position that has resulted in the frequent perception of MWUK as some kind of moral busybody, interfering in society’s freedom to choose what it watches!
Of course, it’s vitally important MWUK and others continue to speak up about dehumanising, offensive and potentially harmful content we see on our screens. But I want to suggest that working for a safer media shouldn’t only focus on the end result i.e. banning and restricting: there must also be a focus on embedding ‘safer media’ principles.
We think a safer media is created when:
Principle #1 – Common sense rules
MWUK, along with its founder, has often been depicted -sometimes justifiably – as a moral censor of any material found to be offensive or displeasing. However, the truth is MWUK wholeheartedly supports the right of freedom of expression but believes it should be exercised responsibly. This means children and young people are protected; expression is lawful and balanced alongside other rights; and doesn’t cause needless offence. We think that’s common sense not censorship.
Principle #2 – The public has a voice
MWUK has been at the forefront of insisting the public should have a say in the media they consume. This led in earlier days to the establishment of bodies such as the Broadcasting Standards Council – an independent body designed to connect public opinion with broadcasters.
Today the regulation of broadcasting standards lies with Ofcom, while other forms of media operate under other regulatory frameworks. MWUK wants to see greater consistency across these bodies, as well as better public representation on their content boards. We believe that giving the public a meaningful voice helps create a safer media.
Principle #3 – Independence and transparency are the norm
In addition, a safer media requires independence and transparency from regulation. These fundamentals help ensure that decisions and rules are made in the interests of citizens and establish a healthier environment for constant improvement.
Principle #4 – Everyone takes responsibility
The vast array of media accessible today makes it incredibly difficult for one group or another to take full responsibility for every form of media content. Creating a safer media environment involves encouraging parents, educators, government, regulators and industry to each play their part according to ability, accountability and capacity.
Principle #5 – the welfare of children and young people is put at the heart of the media industry
A safer media produces services and content that are age and audience appropriate and accessible. Doing so doesn’t just safeguard children but, we think, makes a better society for all.
So what do you think about these safer media principles?
Do you agree with them?
Can you think of others?
Let us know your thoughts and ideas – we’d love to hear from you!
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