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June 11, 2002

Dr. Edward Hill
North Mississippi Medical Center
830 S. Gloster St.
Tupelo, MS 38801

Dear Dr. Hill:

You may remember that back in May 2001, we were on a panel together at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in New York City. The topic was media violence and you stated at that time (responding to a question why the AMA had signed onto a July 2000 "Joint Statement" asserting that media violence had proven adverse effects) that the AMA is "sometimes used by the politicians. We try to balance that because we try to use them also. ... There were political reasons for signing on."

You also stated: "Up to the time I read Marjorie's paper I was fairly comfortable with the research we were presented with. ... I've become less comfortable. I still don't believe I'm necessarily wrong. I just believe not enough research has been done yet - or the right kind of research; and maybe we cannot do that kind of research in the right context."

I'm writing to you now (admittedly, somewhat tardily) to inquire whether, in light of your statements, the AMA might be willing to reconsider its policy on media violence research, as reflected in the Joint Statement. It has long been of concern to me and others in the free-expression community that, as you said, these sorts of statements are politically driven. They are also inaccurate; the assertion in the Joint Statement, for example, that "well over 1000 studies ... point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children" is flatly untrue. The fact is that there are nowhere near 1000 empirical studies (the actual number is closer to 200), and of these, the majority have null results. See, for the only exhaustive examination of each study, Jonathan Freedman's just-published book, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence (U. of Toronto Press).

Although media scholars debate these issues endlessly, I for one do believe that media messages have powerful effects and that some violent media probably does increase aggression for some viewers (though I think that for as many or perhaps more, the effect is probably relaxing or cathartic). However, even if one believes that psychological experiments can establish a causal relationship between something as broad and vague in concept as media violence and subsequent behavior, the research simply has not made the case. This distinction between what we suspect or believe and what has been scientifically proven is important because, as you know, politicians use (or misuse) the research relentlessly to reap headlines, pressure the industry into "voluntary" ratings schemes, and in the process, fail to address the real roots of violence in our society.

As you said during the Freedom Forum panel, education is a much better approach than censorship (or political grandstanding) in dealing with concerns about mass media messages. I enclose a recent policy report, Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship, as an example of the work that the Free Expression Policy Project is doing in this area. It would be terrific if the AMA would consider adopting this approach and revising its position on media violence to take account of the complexity of media effects and renounce simplistic and erroneous assertions about the research.

Incidentally, last year I began a dialogue on this subject with the American Academy of Pediatrics, in response to their November 2001 Policy Statement which asserted, erroneously, that "more than 3500 research studies have examined the association between media violence and violent behavior [and] all but 18 have shown a positive relationship." Although Dr. Miriam Bar-On responded and evidently the subject was discussed by the AAP's Committee on Public Education, ultimately the committee seemed unwilling to reconsider its intellectually sloppy assertions. See http://www.fepproject.org/news/aapletter.html for more on this interchange. I hope that the AMA can do better.

I look forward to hearing from you. And congratulations, by the way, on your election to chairmanship of the AMA board.

Very best regards,

Marjorie Heins



The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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