Catholic bishops produce video on media use of sex and violence

Church leaders call for action on offensive, dangerous portrayals

June 16, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal William H. Keeler, have added their collective voice to the growing call for media to reconsider their portrayals of sex and violence.

In a 12-minute video, "Renewing the Mind of the Media: Overcoming the Exploitation of Sex and Violence in Communications," Keeler and other church leaders urge action against what they consider offensive and dangerous portrayals of sex and violence on television, in films, on radio, in print and on the Internet.

The video, based on a pastoral letter the bishops issued last year, is being made available to dioceses, parishes and schools nationwide.

"Almost everybody recognizes that there is a problem with excessive violence and gratuitous sexuality in the media, and everybody can respond to this in some responsible way," said Keeler, who appears on the video as the co-chairman of the interfaith Religious Alliance Against Pornography.

The video's timeliness in the wake of national horror over the Littleton, Colo., school shooting could not be better.

"It's sort of axiomatic after Littleton to say we have to address violence in our culture and our society," said the Rev. Eileen Lindner, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, the national ecumenical body.

"We have to develop not only the will, but the way in our culture to have some kind of violence abatement, and particularly for our young people."

Rick Schatz, president of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, said the U.S. bishops will be influential.

"We believe that the leadership of the faith community has a role to play at the table of cultural debate," he said.

"We believe that if this message is disseminated in the Roman Catholic Church, that it will eventually get down to the grass roots of the Roman Catholic Church, influencing their behavior and lead other faith communities to make the same kinds of statements and pronouncements."

Born of pastoral concern

Keeler said his interest in monitoring media content was born from pastoral concern.

"If there's any issue that's been brought up to me by parents over a period of some years, it's their concern about what children are exposed to, especially through television and motion pictures," he said.

"Now, in the last year or two, I've been hearing concerns also about terrible things on the Internet. So the question is, `what to do?' "

The bishops' statement and the video are groundbreaking, Lindner said, because they are practical and comprehensive.

"This is the first time I can think of that a church organization has worked to put a specific tool in the hands of religious congregations and communities to help them work through this," said Lindner, who also appears in the video.

"It won't solve all the problems, but it's a big step."

The video urges the federal government to reassert its regulatory role within the broadcast spectrum, and to combat obscenity and child pornography with existing laws.

"It's time for government, which has relaxed regulations altogether, almost completely, to come back into the picture," Keeler said.

"Government over these last few years has abdicated its role."

The video calls on parents to be aware of what their children watch and read, to be clear about which values they accept and reject, and to keep in mind that their example is crucial.

Keeler has been meeting for several years with television and movie executives and creative people to get their input and to urge them to reconsider the messages and images they produce.

"I found that, in meeting with motion picture makers in Los Angeles, they said the most effective way of dealing with them is to `Tell us what's good, not just to tell us what's bad, because we're doing that, too.

"And encourage people to go to see those [good] programs,' " Keeler said.

Not called censorship

Although the video urges government regulation, it does not advocate censorship, participants say.

"Some will misunderstand this as an infringement on the First Amendment," Lindner said. "We're not talking about making illegal that which is legal, but making a decision about how we utilize and circulate and regard those things which are legal under the First Amendment.

"So I welcome this as representing the highest form of exercise in a democracy, to be able to measure what is available against the tempo of what our values are and choose for ourselves what is uplifting and valuable to our lives and what is not."

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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