Associated with recent violent incidents in Europe and the US that have been extensively reported in news broadcasts and on social media, the potentially harmful effects on human brains of such reporting are now being understood as an area of mental health concern.
In a CBC news article, Puppies, selfies, corpses: How graphic images on social media can change your brain, Toronto psychologist Dr. Oren Amitay is quoted as saying, "With enough (news) viewing, we are now coming to understand that somebody could be traumatized second-hand."
Dr. Amitay also confirms the latest issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-V), published in 2013, that a person can be traumatized by repeated exposure to violent images.
Dr. Amitay is additionally reported to say news violence, "affects your physiology, it affects the way you think, the way you see yourself, the way you see the future … You become hyper-alert, hyper-vigilant.
"Even if you never actually had the experience, you could develop the physiological symptoms that go would along with such a terrible experience."
The CBC report, however, lays the majority of blame on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) for transmission of mediated, extreme violence, rather than accepting its own culpability in broadcasting violent news.
In the article, CBC's director of journalistic standards and practices David Studer, is credited for advising news staff to just "cover the story" without the "especially gruesome" details.
That may be so, but the news content CBC is broadcasting remains excessively violent and disturbing, and especially to children and toddlers who are inadvertently exposed to it on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Clearly, this needs to be addressed.
In another story widely reported, the American Association of Pediatrics has just released an updated advisory about children and teens consuming mediated violence in the journal Pediatrics. (See article: Virtual Violence).
In a policy statement, the Academy says "the immersive and inescapable way children and teens are exposed to violence in their 'media diet' on social media apps, video games and movies can make them more aggressive and fearful.
Among the group's recommendations:
• Protect children under age six from all virtual violence, because they cannot always distinguish fantasy from reality.
• Pediatricians should advocate for and help create positive media for children.
• The news media should acknowledge the proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real world aggression.
Dr. Bruce Ballon, a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto expressed in a recent interview that he agrees with the U.S. recommendations, and asserts a link between violence and aggression in children has been established by researchers and "is settled."
If all this is true for older children, teens and young adults, then the need to protect even younger children is more so.
Please sign the Choose News petition to help send the message to the CRTC and Canadian broadcasters to dial back the violent content of TV and radio newscasting to more accurately reflect the true nature of our society, and to help protect our most vulnerable population.