Page 4, 6th November 1964

6th November 1964
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Page 4, 6th November 1964 — THE EFFECTS OF TELEVISION
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THE EFFECTS OF TELEVISION

ROY SHAW reviews "The Efjects of Mass Communication—With Special Reference to Television", by J. D. HALLORAN, published by Leicester University Press (7s. 6d.). Mr. Halloran is secretary of the Home Office Television Research Committee and author of the widely discussed "Control or Consent".

know, because in this field more than most others, a great many people seem to know a great many things which just are not so.

For instance many people are convinced that viewing is driving out reading. Apart from the fact that librarians rep5rt an increase in the borrowing of books. research shows that television does not supplant books, but other pastimes which fulfil similar needs, such as cinema-going, radio listening, and magazine and comic reading.

On the other hand a Pope has told us that television is a great boon in keeping the family together. However, research suggests that whilst it may keep a family in the same room, it does not positively help the unity of the family.

The viewing family may communicate as little with each other as a cinema audience. Hence genuine family unity must be distinguished from sitting round the set together.

Others claim that television opens windows on the world, widening and enrichening our general experience. Research suggests that "television does not stimulate interest or broaden horizons to any greater degree than would take place in the absence of television".

One of the major arguments about television in the last ten years has been that we need greater choice to enrich our viewing possibilities. Unfortunately research shows that when there is greater choice, this paradoxically leads not to an extension of tastes but to a narrowing of them.

Addicts of. say, westerns and crime, now have a double ration to go at, and can switch from channel to channel, avoiding any distastefully improving programmes.

Television is blamed for teenage violence and sexual delinquency. On the question of violence, the critics seem to have a point.

The research so far suggests that violence on the screen is particularly fascinating to young people with agressive instincts, and that viewing does not act as an outlet for these instincts but actually stimulates them, and encourages them to seek other outlets: • "The depiction of crime and violence, need not be a prime mover towards violent conduct, but it does tend to reinforce already existing behaviour, and apparently intensifies the difficulties of frustrated and maladjusted children."

No evidence is given in Mr. Halloran's survey specifically about the effect of erotic scenes, but there is evidence that whereas some children bring aggression to their viewing, others come with a willingness to indulge in fantasy adventures. Some may become addicts to television, and may watch for upwards of 25 hours a week.

The verdict of research so far, then, seems to he that television is neither as good nor as had, an influence as rival apologists claim. Research has shown no evidence of cultural enrichment of young people, and little of corruption. (These verdicts refer to the general programmes, of course. Educational television is a different story, and an encouraging one.) What can people usefully do about television? You can build up your resistance to television addiction by having diverse leisure activities. Television addicts arc found to be those with a cultural vacuum in their lives. (Query: Are parish priests potential television addicts'? From my observation it would seem that many are.) Further, children's viewing habits are' affected by their parents' example, and in many working-class homes television is already left on as a background, just as radio used to be—and as we thought television never could be. Self-discipline could be more than censorship here.

Anyone seriously concerned to think about television's influence, whether as a parent, teacher or priest, should study Mr. Halloran's concise and economical survey of the state of research.

He allows himself few editorialisings, but one deserves to be quoted with emphasis: "We must get away from the habit of thinking in terms of what television does to people, and substitute for it the idea of what people do with television."

Perhaps our campaigners should switch their energies to calling for the responsible use of televisia.

The reader who knows that television has a bad influence, and craves immediate action, will be impatient with the careful balance of Mr. Halloran's survey. For example:

"The evidence available, whilst making it clear that it is pointless to talk in general terms about the media causing delinquency, shows with equal clarity that for some people violence in the media can be unhealthy and detrimental."

And they will be driven crazy by this famous American verdict, given as long ago as 1948, but still appropriate: "Some kinds of communication, on some kinds of issues, brought to. the attention of some kinds of people, under some kinds of conditions, have some kinds of effects.

Altogether the evidence shows that a little prejudice is a dangerous thing, and that those who have studied the question most deeply are less sure about the cause and effect in television and the mass media generally, and feel the need for more research.

Hence, Mr. Halloran's Committee, and his own invaluable preliminary survey of the field.

My only quarrel with the author is when he says that "It is not scientifically justifiable to talk about good and had television". But if he means that we cannot talk of good and bad television because science forbids it, one must say so much the worse for science.

Artistic criticism has its own contribution to make, and this is essentially an evaluation of the content of the communications.

He quotes Professor Hoggart as saying that "Social 'science cannot force a single value assumption or moral judgment to emerge", and endorses this judgment. But he does seem to regard the making of valuejudgments as a marginal activity. whereas it is surely central, with social-scientific research as an aid to making more discerning value judgments.

Mr. Halloran rightly argues that the effect of television is the result of the interplay of three main variables: the nature of the medium; the content of communication, and the characteristics of the viewer.

True enough, and Milton before him reminded us that a wise man may make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool of Holy Scripture; but this should not deter us from making value judgments on the relative merits of an idle pamphlet and Holy Scripture.

Perhaps it is just an unfortunate choice of language, but to call people like Professor Hoggart "moralising literati" seems to betray a prejudice against moral and artistic modes of thinking, even though their role is conceded.

Nevertheless, this moralising ' literatus, who has long been concerned about the influence of mass media, would rather endorse Mr. Halloran's cool and well-informed judgments, with all their reservations, than with the fulminations of the campaigners or the velvet-voiced reassurances of the television providers.




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