If you set about to change the current violent, anti-human, anti-ecological, consumer-targeted cultural environment, how would you go about it? After 40 years of working in communications research and teaching, George Gerbner decided to mount a Founding Convention for the Cultural Environment Movement. In St. Louis, people came from 150 member organizations in 13 countries to do the impossible. We approved a People's communication charter and Viewers' Declaration of Independence.
"We are in a new age with problems that are now totally out of democratic reach nationally and internationally," Gerbner said in his opening remarks. "We have to realize that this new globalized, conglomeratized, standardized cultural environment is damaging to our children, our democracy, society, and communities. We can change some policy here and there, but tampering with such a structure is impossible. So, welcome to the impossible!"
The 40 speakers from around the world told of the problems from their viewpoints. Cees Hamelink, Director of the Centre for Communication and Human Rights in Amsterdam and writer of the Peoples Communications Charter, noted that all nations had pledged to support human rights standards in 1993 and these include human rights in the media. Freedom of information should include freedom to be informed, he said.
Usually, entertainment industry representatives claim that it is impossible to set broadcast standards because of the global nature of new technologies but, as George Gerbner points out, the world currently lives within strict international broadcast standards - ones that are now defined by a few privileged men in Hollywood. When these men argue that they are "only presenting reality," Gerbner added that, in the world of television, there are three men for every one woman presented. Is that the real world?
The Convention was impressed with the success of Canadians in getting Mighty Morphin Power Rangers off the air. This program, which has up to 300 million viewers in 80 countries, broke a number of rules determined by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters in their Code on Violence approved in 1993. Keith Spicer, chair of the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission, spoke of the V-chip which will soon be available. Spicer stressed, however, that the chip must be accompanied by rating criteria and that these together represent only 20 percent of the solution. More important will be public education about the harmful effects of TV violence for consensus on policy making.
The conference broke in to 15 working groups charged with bringing resolutions to the closing plenary. The groups ranged from War and Peace to Media from Cradle to Grave, to Storytellers in a Culture of Storytellers, to Labor, to Religion. The Convention organized a gender-balanced 30-member Coordinating Council and elected a Steering Committee to put some of the ideas into motion. For more information call 215/387-5202 or 5303; fax 215/387-1560, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Herdman is Co-President, Coalition for Responsible Television (CRTV). Rose A. Dyson Ed.D., is Media Consultant, Chair, Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE). Shirley Farlinger is a Toronto-based writer.