Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
24 MARCH 2009
Q480 Martin Salter: Last year Parliament
enacted legislation to outlaw the downloading of violent Internet
pornography as a result of evidence that showed a clear causal
link between watching scenes of rape, torture, snuff movies and
all the rest of it and potential behaviour. Are there not direct
parallels between what young people might be exposed to in terms
of a violent nature and their subsequent behaviour? What about
news footageand this is where it becomes very difficultof
actual acts of violence and that impinging on how young people
may subsequently behave?
Professor Browne: As we have observed
in scientific research in the past in the classic experiments
carried out by Banjura on social learning, he shows that it is
not just what is watched, it is the consequences that occur afterwards
and are observed on film afterwards. No one would want to ban
a film like Schindler's List, which is an extremely violent
film, but the film is historical in context and it tells a story
not to excite the viewer but to inform the viewer and you see
the consequences of that violence in terms of the perpetrators
eventually being punished for their acts. The danger of film or
news reel is when you do not see the consequences of the actions.
That is quite rare for news reel. You are at least told about
the consequences even if you do not observe them. For film there
lies the equivalent to pornography, eg the films by Quentin Tarantino
where the violence in the film is there to excite the viewer,
not to tell a story. Sexually violent films, again through the
work of Malamuth in the States, are well-established in promoting
sexually violent thoughts, fantasies and sometimes action. The
debate is out on what effect non-violent pornography has.
Q481 Martin Salter: Probably the
most violent imagery I have seen in recent months was the assault
on Gaza. The overwhelming response from people I spoke to about
that was not that it was going to make people want to commit acts
of violence; it was just sheer horror and revulsion at the violence
that was being committed there. I am trying to get at the difference
between images of violence that are designed to incite and images
of violence which is factual and in context and could have the
opposite effect on people.
Professor Browne: Depending on
someone's background, they are influenced by media violence, whether
it is on the TV or in the game environment, but the game environment
being interactive is much more powerful. If you come from a violent
background you are going to act out what you see on the screen
and learn strategies from what you are playing or observing. If
you do not come from a violent background you probably will not
act it out, it will not make you violent, but you will become
desensitized to violence and therefore you are less likely to
intervene and you will see more of a bystander effect in society.
That is exactly what the news reels do that you have described,
it desensitises us to violence, so we are less shocked by war,
less shocked by violence on the screen and less shocked by what
happens in Northern Ireland. That is what will happen to the non-violent
Q482 Patrick Mercer: Michael Moss
was killed trying to re-enact scenes from Reservoir Dogs.
In that film Quentin Tarantino is quite clever to avoid actual
violence on screen. The consequences of violence are shown but
the violence is not. What is your take on that?
Professor Browne: Quentin Tarantino
rarely gives the victim perspective in these movies, he usually
gives the offender perspective, so you see everything from the
offender perspective, which is what makes his films dangerous.
You need a balance. In telling a story you have to have the victim
perspective as well as the offender perspective and Schindler's
List is a perfect example of that.
Q483 Ms Buck: I am very sympathetic
to the idea about desensitization that you have described. In
terms of people's exposure particularly to real life violence,
to conflict and war, is it not the case that developed countries,
where there has been a long exposure through television to conflict
in a way that was unheard of historically, are much less inclined
to support war than they were? If you look back 100 years at the
great wars of the 20th Century and you look now at Britain and
America and Europe and their reluctance to enter conflicts, those
two things do not seem to go together.
Professor Browne: I am not too
clear of the evidence you are putting forward. What I do know
is Johnson has done some naturalistic studies on the island of
St Helena where he estimated that around about 40% of what was
on the television was violent in some respect, it increased the
amount of violence in a school playground and he measured this
and that was good clear evidence of the effects of passive viewing.
The desensitization argument is also supported by the increased
tolerance of the British Board of Film Classification to what
they allow through classification on DVD and in cinema. We have
seen a dramatic change just over the past five years in what would
have been banned five years ago which is now freely available
for purchase or to view. This would give some evidence for this
notion of society being desensitized.
Q484 Tom Brake: Are you able to tell
us how far down the scale of violence there is in fact an impact?
Obviously with a slasher movie you would expect an impact. My
eight-year old plays Star Trek on a Wii with cartoon characters.
At what point can you see there is a real impact in terms of people's
Professor Browne: It depends on
the individual. It depends on whether the individual identifies
with the character in the film and how realistic the portrayal
of the game or film is to reality. So the further removed from
reality in terms of historical context or science fiction the
less impact. Reservoir Dogs is a film about American society.
We find that British children are more influenced by British films
like I.D. about football because it is in a British context.
So the more relevant the film is to their current everyday experiences
the more powerful the effect, and the same with computer games.
Q485 Tom Brake: You mentioned in
your opening comments that this should be treated as a public
health issue. What do you mean? Do you mean warnings on DVDs?
Do you mean no more than three units per week? What sort of thing
are you advocating?
Professor Browne: I would not
suggest such draconian measures because they are difficult to
police and implement.
Q486 Chairman: What is wrong with
a very big label stuck on the front of a DVD?
Professor Browne: There is nothing
wrong with that, that is informing the parent, but the British
Board of Film Classification would argue it is already there in
terms of the classification system. I would argue that we are
being irresponsible in protecting children in the way that we
market games, film and toys. Where we are being irresponsible
is that a child looks for continuity. He will pick up a Batman
toy or a Spiderman toy or a Superman toy in a shop and these are
marketed at three and four-year olds, but then when the film arrives
it is a 12 or a 15, which makes it difficult for parents to control,
makes it difficult for the child who demonstrates that he wants
to see this superhero that he has played with for so long, and
we have inconsistency in the way that the film is presented to
the public. James Bond, for example, has been a very popular film
with children for years and all of a sudden they turn it into
something much more violent, make it a 15 and every child cannot
see it, but they will try and see it because they have watched
all the PGs and the Us beforehand. This is irresponsibility in
the way we are marketing films. The most important point I want
to make from a public health perspective is the laxity and control
over what is available to the most vulnerable population in our
society and that is young offenders. If you go into local authority
secure units or you go into YOIs you will find that they are able
to borrow from the library DVDs and computer games which are completely
inappropriate given that they have been convicted of violent offences.
So they can watch Rambo or play a computer game like Armageddon
despite the fact that we recognise they are the most vulnerable
people in society.
Q487 Mr Winnick: Where is the evidence,
having watched these video games, some of them pretty horrible,
which I would not have wished to have seen or my son, of those
who could be vulnerable going and trying to commit those sorts
Professor Browne: There is always
anecdotal evidence. I can give you an example that Scotland Yard
has in their Black Museum. There is a film that I am sure you
are all familiar with because it is a cult film now called Nightmare
on Elm Street with Freddy Krueger. In that film there is a
glove that he has with knives on the end of the glove. This was
copied by a young offender. He took a garden glove and added razor
blades to the ends of the fingers and this glove was found in
the back of a car with bloodstains on it. The bloodstains were
not the same bloodstains as the offender; they checked that out
biologically, so it had been used on someone else, but because
they could not find the victim he was done for possession of a
dangerous weapon. That is evidence of direct copycatting.
Q488 Mr Winnick: There is no evidence
that some of the most notorious murderers who have been convicted
in the last 20 or 30 years were drawn to such horrifying crimes
because they had watched videos or such material, is there?
Professor Browne: It would be
a mistake to suggest, and I would never suggest this and I did
not in this article, that media violence is the only and most
powerful influence; it is not. Aggression and violence to others
is a complex phenomena and multi-factorial. However, by statistical
procedures we can estimate the contribution of media violence
to any one person's predisposition to be violent and we estimate
it to be around 10% of any person's predisposition to be violent
will be media influenced. That 10% is a massive public health
effect size. So if we could reduce violence by 10% in our society
by being more responsible in the way that we portray media violence
that would have a massive public health impact.
Q489 Mr Winnick: As you will appreciate,
part of our job here is to be the devil's advocate in examining
witnesses. You are in favour of a degree of censorship.
Professor Browne: No.
Q490 Mr Winnick: As I understand
it you are with some qualifications. You will correct me if I
am wrong, but I thought you were in favour of some censorship
with some qualifications.
Professor Browne: It depends what
you mean by censorship.
Q491 Mr Winnick: You do use some
Professor Browne: Certain images
I would not want children to see and therefore theoretically should
be censored, but because of the Internet censorship is horribly
a thing of the past and is practically impossible now to do. I
would go down the road of education and public health education
to parents and to health visitors. Health visitors should be checking
what children are seeing in the home environment, but now we do
not have a health visiting system that visits homes so we cannot
do that sort of thing. We need to re-establish our interest in
the homes of children and how they grow up and make sure that
there is not inappropriate imaginary and that parents are responsible
and we need to help them in that.
Q492 David Davies: I have a lot of
sympathy with what you are saying, but should it not also apply
to violent lyrics in music?
Professor Browne: Yes, I completely
agree. Imagery in music videos can be extremely violent and also
extremely damaging to things like gender issues, et cetera.
Q493 Mrs Dean: From your perspective
as a forensic psychologist, what is the key to preventing young
people from carrying and using weapons?
Professor Browne: I move away
now from media violence. You have heard that I think if we were
responsible on media violence it would have an effect. If someone
asked me what one thing I would do to reduce knife crime and violence
in society, it would be to introduce treatment orders in the family
courts. Children role model on their parents. Unfortunately a
small proportion of children grow up in violent families and role
model on violent fathers. Often these violent fathers, because
there is not enough evidence to convict them in a criminal court
beyond all reasonable doubt, go from one family to another because
under the balance of probability in a family court they are not
allowed to see their own children because they have been violent,
so they move on and join another family and set a violent environment
there. That is because we do not have treatment orders in the
family courts. Only convicted violent criminals are given any
form of treatment. This is where we go wrong. I work in the family
courts and I see many men leave those family courts just to move
on, separated from the current family that we are discussing.
They are the problem. The problem is not the mother and it is
not the children that are being protected. The problem is this
violent man that moves around from one family to the next and
what that man needs is treatment. The judges are extremely frustrated.
They have the power to ask for assessments paid for by the Ministry
of Justice but they do not have the power to ask for treatment.
Often you get health and social services arguing the toss for
a year, while the children are expensively in foster care, about
who is going to pay for any form of treatment for the violent
offender. In order to break the cycle we must introduce treatment
orders in the courts.
Q494 Chairman: You are very clear
that in your view there is a link between violent video games
and the violence that is being administered by young people against
each other as far as knife crime is concerned. Is there no doubt
in your mind?
Professor Browne: No doubt whatsoever.
Q495 Chairman: Why then does the Government
in your view continue to resist the arguments that have been put
forward? Is it the power of the video games industry?
Professor Browne: I think it has
a lot to do with the glamour and the power of the film industry.
Q496 Chairman: The video games?
Professor Browne: Both, the film
and the game industry. There is a lot of money in it. They know
that violence sells. The approach I am suggesting is not one of
censorship, it is one of education. I think the best comparison
is to look at the concept of paracetamol. It is freely available
in any shop. However, we know it is misused by a minority to attempt
self-harm and suicide and yet we do not try and ban it from the
population as a whole because it is a useful product. Therefore,
what we need is to take this same approach with violent media.
We need to keep violent media away from those most vulnerable
to be affected by it, those who are mentally ill, young offenders,
drug addicts and alcoholics.
Q497 Chairman: Do you think there
is a responsibilityyou have mentioned the World Wide Webon
the service providers to ensure that they do not make these violent
games available on the Internet?
Professor Browne: With both sexual
and violent imagery I think that the service providers and the
telephone providers are getting away with "murder".
Q498 Chairman: Following the excellent
research by the University of Michigan, do you consider that there
is a strong case for the government initiating further research
on the link between violent games and knife crime?
Professor Browne: What is required
in my view is longitudinal research on vulnerable groups, which
the United States has not done much about, longitudinal work with
young offenders and also with those people who are in mental health
institutions because of violent behaviour to see how people with
mental illness and personality disorders perceive film differently
to the average person and then understand that. There is no research
in that area. These research areas are extremely important to
build up knowledge about how to intervene and respond.
Q499 Chairman: Professor Browne,
this Committee is extraordinarily grateful to you. Thank you very
much for coming to give evidence to us today. If you have missed
out anything in your evidence that you think is relevant to the
Committee's deliberations, though we are completing the formal
evidence today, please do not hesitate to write to us.
Professor Browne: Thank you.