Critics of kids' TV laud Norwegian response to killing of a little girl A VIOLENT REACTION

October 20, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Is it a reactionary move to self-censorship or an enlightened decision by Scandinavian broadcasters from which their American counterparts could learn? And, is there a message in it for American parents who worry about the effects television shows, like "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and "Mutant Ninja Turtles," might be having on their children?

Those were key questions that educators, researchers, child care specialists and parents were asking yesterday in reaction to news that "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" -- the highest-rated kids' TV show in America -- had been pulled from the airwaves in Norway.

The show was taken off the air because Norwegians believe it might be linked to the shocking death Saturday of a 5-year-old girl, Silje Marie Redergaard.

The girl's body was found beaten and partly undressed. She had been kicked, punched and hit with a rock, then left to freeze to death in the snow.

Who would do such a horrible thing? Three of her male playmates, police say. Two of the boys are 6 years old, one is 5.

At this point, the only reported link between the killing and children's television comes from an early version of the incident one of the boys gave police. He initially said teen-age boys attacked and killed the girl, and that he chased them away when he "kicked one of them until he bled -- just like the Mutant Ninja Turtles do."

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is an animated show that features likable heroes kung-fu-kicking and karate-chopping evil opponents. "Power Rangers" is a live-action show featuring kung-fu teen-age heroes. Both shows are targeted at 4- to 12-year-olds.

While pulling "Power Rangers" based on the reported link in Norway might seem premature to some, several experts yesterday said there was more than enough evidence in 40 years of research on kids and TV to support this ounce of prevention.

"Let's move to Norway," said Dr. Sheri Parks, about the decision of Channel 3, a commercial satellite channel from London, to pull the plug on "Power Rangers" in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Dr. Parks, who teaches a course in "Children and Television" at the University of Maryland College Park, believes there is an indisputable link between children watching violence on television and aggressive behavior, especially younger children.

"From the information available at this time, no direct or indirect linkage between this event and any children's telecast in Scandinavia has been established," said Barry Stagg, vice president of Saban Entertainment, the producer of the "Power Rangers." "Although our show has no direct linkage in this grievous occurrence, we remain deeply saddened by this tragedy."

Fox Broadcasting, the network that carries the series in America, declined comment yesterday. Earlier this year, however, Margaret Loesch, president of the Fox Children's Network, was asked about violence in the show and whether she feared kids might imitate it.

"We're not worried about 'Power Rangers' because frankly we have gotten very little criticism. We've gotten almost no letters of complaints from parents, for example, because it's such a silly show," she said.

"But, clearly, I think our responsibility lies in diversity. I think if we had more shows like that -- more action-adventure -- maybe it wouldn't be the best route for our young viewers. We've always approached our programming like a balanced meal. If you provide a balanced meal, it's not going to be irresponsible."

Loesch also contended there's no proof of a direct causal relationship between viewing TV violence and young children acting aggressively. But even some of Loesch's own colleagues in the broadcasting community sharply disagree.

"When I pick up my 10-year-old at school and I see the little 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds in the playground karate-chopping and kicking one another, they didn't pick that up off 'Law & Order' or 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,' " said Don Ohlmeyer, West Coast president of NBC. "They picked that up from a steady diet of [Fox] programs aimed at them. And what you basically have in 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' is a show that's gratuitous violence in search of a plot."

Asked if watching "Power Rangers" could contribute to 6-year-olds attacking a playmate, Dr. Parks said yes, "especially if they see the aggressive behavior as valued the way it is in these shows. And research shows that it's more likely to be boys acting aggressively."

Dr. Jerome Singer, of the Yale University Family Television Research Center, agrees.

"There is a risk to kids from shows like these," said Dr. Singer, a psychologist. "The research data consistently point to the fact that children who watch violent or aggressive material -- material that's relatively realistic and imitatable -- on television or video are more likely to be aggressive afterward."

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