Not weak-kneed but strong-minded on Section 15

Published: Sunday | December 15, 2013 Comments 0
Bounty Killer, also called The Warlord, has performed so-called gun lyrics, but guest columnist Damion Crawford has urged caution about linking violent behaviour to music. - File
Bounty Killer, also called The Warlord, has performed so-called gun lyrics, but guest columnist Damion Crawford has urged caution about linking violent behaviour to music. - File

Damion Crawford, Guest Columnist

It is unfortunate that a journalist the calibre of Ian Boyne finds it impossible to disagree without being disrespectful. In an article titled 'Politicians weak-kneed on hate music' (Sunday Gleaner, 8/12/2013), Mr Boyne insinuated at my supposed aversion to reading - a conclusion to which he could have no evidence, based on our limited interaction and his lack of knowledge of my reading habits.

In an attempt not to major in the minor, I will ignore the personal attacks to deal with the issue at hand: i.e., Section 15 of what is loosely termed 'the anti-gang bill'.

Discussion on the relevance of any clause in this bill must start and end with the objective/s of the bill, which is to reduce criminal activity, in particular murder, through the suppression of gangs, which are assumed to be the major contributors to crime in Jamaica.

Fundamentally, one question needs to be answered: Does the consumption of violence, through media, cause/lead to criminal activity? I've left out the gang portion deliberately, as in its original form, only five songs that directly glorified a particular gang could have been found after an "extensive review" by the National Intelligence Bureau. To this extent, when challenged, the section was changed to include generally violent music.

IF MEDIA NOT TO BLAME

I'm extremely confused by the apparent assumption by Mr Boyne and others that influence is binary: either total impact or no impact.

Mr Boyne writes: "Is Damion really questioning the well-established link between media consumption and behaviour?" The simple answer to that, Mr Boyne, is no. What I question is the link between media consumption and criminal activity. Indeed, I hypothesise that media consumption may influence how we talk, how we dance, maybe even what we buy.

However, as a man who obviously reads a lot, I direct Mr Boyne to a book titled Consumer Behaviour by Schiftman et al, where it is established that the influence of any stimulus has limits. A stimulus, like peer pressure, may cause me to buy a certain product, but it wouldn't cause me to commit a crime. Indeed, I would much sooner change my peers.

I am further confused that Mr Boyne properly quoted my statement, "... there is no research which shows that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal activities ... ," yet sought to counter that opinion with a book titled Media Music and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, penned by an author who herself must admit that she isn't an authority on the subject of the impact of media violence of criminal activity.

Mr Boyne would have been better served quoting from his 'extensive' research, Albert Bandura ('Bobo Doll'), Fredrick Wertham case studies, Brandon Centerwall, Leonard Eran ('Rip van Winkle'), or Laramie Taylor, who all argue that consumption of media violence leads to actual violence or to aggression, where aggression is a proxy of real-life violence.

Before you scurry off to catch up on some reading, note that the methodology for all the above has been challenged. Indeed, some of these methodologies also found that climate, and even the consumption of sodas, lead to aggression which, as highlighted earlier, was used as a proxy for violence.

Had Mr Boyne done any reading on the influence of media consumption, he would have realised that that my opinion is not so "astounding", "outlandish" or "embarrassing", as he posits in his article. Indeed, had Mr Boyne done any reading at all, he would have realised that this debate began since at least 4 BC when Plato argued that government should censor unsavoury or unpatriotic messages found in tragic poetry. Mr Boyne would have read that Plato then was challenged by his student, Aristotle, who then argued that, by contrast, gruesome deeds portrayed in theatre, instead of inspiring imitation, made it less likely that they would actually behave violently after leaving the theatre.

In fact, had Mr Boyne not been the more 'ray-ray' of the two of us, his 'extensive' reading would have shown some of the following research findings:

  • Seymour Feshbach et al, 1971: Found that violent entertainment was more likely to defuse than stimulate aggression. He argues that violence under "the guise of dramatic fantasy is found throughout history and it seems likely that the vicarious participation in these fantasies does satisfy some human need".
  • US government study, 1972: The findings suggest little evidence existed that the consumption of violence had "an adverse effect on the majority of children".
  • Ronald Milalsky, 1982: conducted a longitudinal study on 3,200 persons and found no evidence of behavioural effect from consuming media violence.
  • Oene Wiegman, 1992: A study of 14 groups from six countries found that ... the opinion formulated on the basis of social learning theory that media violence consumption leads to aggressive behaviour cannot be supported.
  • Dr Sheryl Ulson, 2004: In a study of 1,254 seventh- and eighth-graders, plus 500 parents, found there was no causal relationship between violent media consumption and violent behaviour.
  • Dr Stanton Semenow, 2004: Here the author suggests that even the assumption that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal action is "absurdity".
  • Max Fisher, 2012: found no causal link between the consumption of violent media and actual gun violence.
  • Dr John Kiburn, 2009: A meta analysis of 25 studies, which included 12,436 subjects, found a correlation so small that they concluded: "If the goal of society is to reduce violence, scientific, political and economic efforts would likely bear more fruits in other realms."
  • Dr Christopher Ferguson, 2013: "People may object morally to some of the content that exists in media, but the question is whether the media can [create] criminal behaviour. The answer seems to be no." He argues further: "We basically find that genetics and some social issues combine to predict later adult arrests. Despite ongoing concerns about media influences, media do not seem to function as a risk factor for adult criminality."
  • Prof Laurence Steinberg, 2013: "... There is little credible evidence that violent media causes people to commit real-world violence ... . These widespread beliefs are a convenient distraction from the real causes of problem behaviour."
Studies have been carried out by governments of Norway, Britain, Australia and Sweden, all of which found "no evidence" that violent media led to violence. In fact, countless other studies have come to similar conclusions.

If one is in agreement with the above sentiments, Section 15 does not belong in the anti-gang bill.

Truth be told, Mr Boyne could find some articles to suggest there is indeed a link between media violence and actual violence as proxy by aggression. He may even be able to quote a recent article that suggests there is as much a correlation between the two variables as there is a correlation between cigarette and cancer.

Indeed, Mr Boyne and others may choose to ignore all the methodological flaws and the weak correlations and the reports of misrepresentation of facts plaguing research that, at best, can only link media violence to aggression, and not criminal intent or action.

If it is believed that the consumption of violence through media can cause a person to engage in crime, Section 15 of the bill is relevant but grossly insufficient. This is so as the bill targets only Jamaica's music, not all media; not all music, but Jamaican music.

Save and except that Mr Boyne and others believe that the consumption of violence in movies, books, cartoons, video games, Internet and indeed other forms of music does not influence people negatively, I am at a loss as to how the insufficiency of the clause isn't being accepted. Unless based on some undeclared bias, it is thought that dancehall - and only dancehall - holds the capacity of criminal influence through violent lyrics.

My argument, therefore, is that if it is accepted that the consumption of violence through media is a material assistant to the crime problem, the law should make criminal the distribution of violent content in all forms. It should make it illegal for shows like Rambo to be at Carib 5, distributed on DVDs, streamed on the Internet or carried on cable. The law should further criminalise the distribution, through any medium, cartoons or literature that involve weapons and/or death by human effort.

Mr Boyne, in his attempt to ridicule, indicated that I believed that there is a hint of classism in the attack on dancehall as a standalone in this bill. I have never stuttered in acknowledging that Jamaica is a highly classist country and I do believe that, knowingly or unknowingly, this has influenced the limited effort geared towards other forms of media.

I understand that at a time when it is accepted by all that crime must be fought by any means necessary, there will be broad support for some unnecessary means. However, I caution Jamaicans not to support or reject, based on the influence of fear, but instead to support or rejecton the basis of facts.

I would like to remind Mr Boyne that things are not so simply because you say they are so. To that extent, we can disagree and debate without ill-intentioned disrespect. Fortunately, this conversation demands strong minds more than strong knees.

Damion Crawford, MP, is state minister of tourism and entertainment. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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