The Blame Game | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.05.2002
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The Blame Game

After the debate on tightening gun laws, Germany’s political establishment has predictably turned to the media to curb its dishing out of violence. But not everybody is swallowing the media-violence link.


An "open dialogue with youth" is missing in Germany

"It was always about shooting, always about violence. He was glued to the computer, it was like an addiction" – those were the words of the shell-shocked parents of Robert Steinhaüser, who shot dead 16 people at a high school in Erfurt before turning the gun on himself.

In an interview with the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, the family of the 19-year-old killer who talked about his obsession with brutal computer games seemed to confirm what German politicians have been openly debating for the past week – violence in the media is directly linked to violent and aggressive behaviour among youth.

Several politicians now want to simply wipe out the offending images, filter out the bestial violence portrayed in films and clean up the reels so that kids in future will not go berserk after watching a swaggering character massacre his victims on the screen.

Much like the political establishment in America reacted to the horrific Columbine high school massacre in 1998, Germany’s politicians too have been quick to point fingers at what they deem as the "irresponsibility" of the media and internet in showing blatant violence and mayhem.

Apart from a heated discussion on keeping guns away from teenagers by toughening gun laws, last week German Chancellor Schröder met with heads of public and private television stations to discuss ways of limiting violence on the small screen.

Media rejects the blame

But media experts are not buying the argument.

Cutting off a teenager’s easy access to violent media images will stave off further attacks such as the one in Erfurt is too simplistic, say media experts. Further there’s no evidence that mock violence in media makes people violent, several experts believe.

In an interview with DW-WORLD, the Deputy Chairman of the German Federal Organisation for Audio Visual Media, Oliver Trettin said, "it’s always simple to blame it on the media and violent videos after an event like the one in Erfurt. But the fact is that this argument is completely missing the point. It doesn’t take into account any other factors such as the social and familial environment of the children. What’s missing in Germany is open dialogue with youth about things that are aired on television as opposed to countries such as America or France".

Though nothing concrete has come of Chancellor Schröder’s meeting with the television bosses, Mr. Trettin can’t imagine Germany’s tough censorship laws being tightened further.

"Germany has one of the most restrictive self-regulation laws in the world. Every film that’s made in the country is screened and scrutinised by the FSK (a voluntary self-regulatory body of the German film industry) and only once they give the okay, can the film proceed to the theatres. It’s very difficult in Germany for someone to illegally watch a film ", he says.

How credible are research studies?

It’s not just media experts who are blasting the media-violence connection, but several authors and social scientists too.

Several books and papers published notably in the United States say that not a single study among the thousands conducted in the past are remotely predictive of something like the Columbine massacre or the most recent shootout in Erfurt.

Several doubts have also been expressed about the "neutrality" of studies which are conducted in laboratories and which require their young subjects to watch "violent" and "neutral" segments. Experts say, that researchers by the very act of showing the tapes implicitly endorse the behaviour they require the kids to watch.

An increasing number of experts say that directed legislation of the media industry or a change in media methods can’t make a difference if the problem lies in a broken home or neglect.

Not enough media educators

Professor Ludwig Issing, a professor for media psychology and media pedagogy at the Free University in Berlin told DW-WORLD that the problem of possible media-related violence in Germany is further exacerbated by the lack of media educators at German schools.

"Teachers are just not equipped to teach children how to become educated consumers of film and television or to discuss violence," he said. "The political establishment has failed to provide media education. This country needs at least ten years of media education."

He doesn’t believe that filtering out violent material in the media is any help.

"Educated choices are what the children should be raised to make," he said.

He envisages the family being the one to do that and advocates further projects such as the "Youth Protection" by the German Federal Criminal Agency along with the Bertelsmann Foundation to monitor right-wing extremist sites.

A spokesperson at the German Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens and Youth told DW-WORLD that the top priority is now to amend the youth protection law in Germany and extend its boundaries to include computer games and the internet and to guide parents in helping their children view "safe" pages on the internet.

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  • Date 09.05.2002
  • Author Sonia Phalnikar
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  • Date 09.05.2002
  • Author Sonia Phalnikar
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink