June 25, 2001
Mr. John Cassaday
President and CEO
Corus Entertainment Inc.
1630 - 181 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M6J 2T3
Dear Mr. Cassaday:
Re: Proposed launch of all-horror channel, Scream TV
In writing about the Corus promotion of Scream TV during the Canadian Television Press Tour, Toronto Star columnist, Antonia Zerbisias, stated that she was "... nearly blown out of my chair by the violence" of the highlights reel. Another columnist said the channel would be broadcasting slasher films like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Prom Night, and the Corus web site makes reference to "teen screamers".
As a result of this coverage, I wrote to The Hon. David Young, Attorney General of Ontario, asking for his intervention in trying to stop the launch of Scream TV. In response, Marie Bountrogianni, Women's Issues Critic for the provincial Liberal party, raised the issue in the Ontario Legislature on June 14, 2001. Copy of Hansard is enclosed. I have since been advised by Liberal M.P.P., Lyn McLeod, that they have written to Sheila Copps about this channel on behalf of their caucus. The provincial Liberals have a history of vigorously opposing slasher films because of the brutal and graphic violence against women they depict.
In 1989, Time magazine ran an item on youth violence which included the following:
Among the most offensive purveyors of brutality to women are slasher films. The movies that inaugurated the trend, including Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, are now tame compared with such opuses as I Spit on Your Grave or Splatter University. The main features: graphic and erotic scenes of female mutilation rape or murder...
Slasher films are widely shown on cable TV, and video shops do a booming business in rentals, especially among eleven to 15-year-olds. Youngsters watch three or four at a clip at all-night "gross-out" parties... Many experts believe that such films may be a contributing factor in date rape, one of the most common adolescent sexual crimes. "Teenagers are only doing what they are told to do." says sociologist Gail Dines-Levy of Boston's Wheelock College. "They are being conformists, not deviants."
I am writing to inform you, Mr. Cassaday, about the research proving the profoundly harmful influence of media violence in general, and the even more dangerous influence of the brutally violent slasher films Corus plans on broadcasting. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's not a bliss someone in your position is entitled to.
A 1989 Washington Post article stating that the evidence on television violence was in noted that "It comes in the configurations of the corpses, mutilated by disturbed teenagers to resemble victims in slasher movies that find their way onto television." The slasher movie, Scream, has been implicated in murders in the United States, while the young killers of toddler Jamie Bulger in England copied from the horror movie, Child's Play 3. Here in Canada, a teenager killed a young boy imitating the movie Warlock. Relevant newspaper articles are enclosed.
As you may be aware, a number of multi-million dollar civil lawsuits have been filed in the United States against entertainment companies for real-life violence their products have inspired. In fact, I organized a Toronto forum on such lawsuits that brought together one of the prominent American lawyers in this field with Canadian lawyers and victims' advocates.
American and Canadian civil litigators have confirmed that a barrier to civil accountability for purveyors of harmful products is the proof that they possessed advance knowledge of the potential harm their product created. This letter and the research referenced within it constitute your notice.
Research on the effects of media violence
In July 2000, a Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Medical Association at a Congressional Public Health Summit on entertainment violence. It stated that
"… the conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting."
The concern about the influence of media violence on behaviour goes back fifty years. Following is a brief sampling of statements from government, mental health experts and children's advocates:
1982: National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.) issued an extensive report stating that there is a clear consensus on the strong link between TV violence and aggressive behavior. The American Medical Association reaffirmed "... its vigorous opposition to television violence and its support for efforts designed to increase the awareness of physicians and patients that television violence is a risk factor threatening the health of young people."1984: U.S. attorney general’s Task Force on Family Violence stated that evidence is overwhelming that TV violence contributes to real life violence.
1993: Standing Committee on Communications and Culture (Canada) released its report Television Violence: Fraying Our Social Fabric which stated: "The Committee believes that the problems of television violence, and the larger issue of societal violence, could lead to the fraying of the fabric of our modern civilization unless a comprehensive strategy is developed to arrest such insidious progress." It further stated "What is needed is for government, the federal regulator and broadcasters to act." The report contained this recommendation specific to slasher films:Recommendation No. 26 - The Committee recommends that the federal Minister of Justice, in collaboration with his provincial counterparts, study the matter of extremely violent forms of entertainment, such as slasher and snuff films, to determine the criminal legislative measures needed to control them and to design such legislation to conform to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
1993: Keith Spicer, Chairman of the CRTC, wrote in a letter to the Globe and Mail: "At the February 20 - 21  conference on TV violence at Toronto's C.M. Hincks Institute, some of the top experts in the U.S. and Canada confirmed that research overwhelmingly proves that excessive TV violence hurts children by contributing to desensitization, aggression, impaired learning abilities, increased bullying and weapons use.1993: American Psychological Association’s Commission on Violence and Youth stated: "There is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior."
1996: National Association for the Education of Young Children (U.S.), an organization of over 100,000 early childhood educators, issued a position statement which said "Research is clear that the media, particularly television and films, contribute to the problem of violence in America. Research demonstrates that children who are frequent viewers of violence on television are less likely to show empathy toward the pain and suffering of others and more likely to behave aggressively."1997: American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 53,000 pediatricians, offered this statement on behalf of the children and adolescents of America. "The level of violence to which they are exposed through the media has reached such horrific proportions, health professionals, parents, legislators and educators agree that something has to be done."
1999: Canadian Paediatric Society issued a position paper, Children and the Media, noting that "The influence of the media on the psychosocial development of children is profound."
1999: U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary issued Children, Violence, and the Media: A Report for Parents and Policy Makers which identified media violence as a "principal cause" of youth violence.2000: B. C. Attorney General, Andrew Petter, asked Canadian justice ministers to institute a national strategy to counter child and youth-targeted violence in the media. A federal/territorial/provincial working group on media violence was formed as a result. One month later, British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, Attorney General Andrew Petter and Education Minister Penny Priddy declared media violence a threat to children, and launched a provincial strategy to promote safe communities, safe schools and safe media.
Dangerous influence of slasher films
With specific regard to the slasher genre, former FBI agent, Robert Ressler, who founded the agency's criminal profiling program, and noted forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Park Elliot Dietz, both experts on serial murder, believe slasher films are contributing to the increase in serial killing because of the explicit linking of sex with torture and murder in films targeted at a teenage audience. Dietz put it this way:
"If a mad scientist wanted to find a way to raise a generation of sexual sadists in America, he could hardly do better at our present state of knowledge than to try to expose a generation of teenage boys to films showing women mutilated in the midst of a sexy scene."
According to Dr. Iris Jackson-Whaley, who at the time was President of the Ontario Psychological Association:
"If a person has psychological problems, a very scary movie can make them worse, not better. There's increasing evidence to show that violence and gore serves to increase the possibility that a disturbed person will act out the violence."
Even Hollywood knows about the negative effect of these films. For instance, John Carpenter, originator of the Halloween series, acknowledged in a televised interview that "a lot of people who watch these movies begin to imitate them". Kevin Williamson, director of Scream, admitted that the movies "make psychos more creative".
Harmful influence on children
Violent and/or scary TV programs and movies have both immediate and long-term effects on children. Immediate reactions include intense fear, crying, clinging behaviours, and stomach-aches. Long-term reactions vary from nightmares and difficulty sleeping, concern about being hurt or killed, and aversion to common animals.
In her book, Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them, Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., asks: "How much fright can a child take? When does the spine tingling cease to be fun?... There have been several case studies in medical journals telling about young people who had to be hospitalized for several days or weeks after watching horror movies such as The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One recent article reported that two children had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis usually reserved for Vietnam War veterans and victims of physical violence, as a result of watching a horror movie on television. One of the children described in the article was hospitalized for eight weeks."
The Myth of Parental Responsibility - "It's going to be like f---king Doom"
Historically, the entertainment industry has unleashed horrors on society and then put the onus on parents to control what their children are exposed to, and I'm guessing that will be the Corus response to criticism. But dumping that responsibility on parents is completely unacceptable for several reasons:
Uninformed parents - Many parents are unaware of the research proving the harmful effects of exposure to media violence and so do not monitor or restrict what their children watch.Irresponsible parents - Some parents are totally irresponsible, so that even if they did know, they wouldn't care.
Abusive parents - Studies indicate that children most at risk to be influenced by violent media and to adopt violent role models, are children living in dysfunctional, non-nurturing, and/or abusive homes.Children at risk - The Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals, estimates that 20%, or one and a half million Canadian children, are coping with at least one emotional or behavioral disability.
The rest of us, Mr. Cassaday, have to share the same planet with the violent children of uninformed, irresponsible, and abusive parents. And this is how it plays out in the real world: Columbine High School. The parents of children shot to death at Columbine could have done everything in their power to protect their own children from media violence, but that would not have prevented them from being shot by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris who, in a videotape they prepared before the massacre, said "It's going to be like f---king Doom", a notoriously violent video game.
Klebold and Harris morphed the faces of their classmates from the Columbine yearbook onto the bodies of virtual humans they practiced shooting, and created a level of the game Doom called "Columbine" whose hallways replicated visually those of their school, and then they acted out their murderous fantasy. So much for parental responsibility as a "solution".
* * *
It's quite astonishing, really, that following the release of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission report condemning the entertainment industry for marketing violent products inappropriately to children and youth, that your company would be so blatant in trumpeting its intention to do just that. It does, however, illustrate perfectly the abysmal failure of the CRTC to regulate the public airwaves in anything even remotely approaching the public interest, and the critical importance of the review of broadcasting announced by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
P.O. Box 90598
Markham Eglinton Post Office
Toronto, Ontario M1J 3N7
Encl. Five Decades of Commissions, Committees, and Studies
CAVEAT report, VISION - Action Today for a Safer Tomorrow Recommendations on media violence
Newspaper articles on Scream, Child's Play 3, Warlock
cc Debbie Mahaffy, MADD
The Hon. David Young, Attorney General
The Hon. Dianne Cunningham, Minister Responsible for Women's Issues
Scott Newark, Special Counsel, Office for Victims of Crime
Marie Bountrogianni, M.P.P., Liberal Critic, Women's Issues
Michael Bryant, M.P.P., Liberal Critic, Attorney General
Peter Kormos, M.P.P., NDP Critic, Attorney General
The Hon. Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage
Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
Melanie Cishecki, Executive Director, MediaWatch
Jack Thompson, Attorney
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman