Debates about the power of TV to influence peoples behaviour and beliefs have been controversial since the medium became widely popular in the West in the 1950s. There are three main strands of concern: the impact of TV on social behaviour, particularly crimes of violence; its effects on the political process; and whether it causes a deterioration in cultural standards.
A large amount of research has been carried out on the extent to which TV influences social behaviour. The main concerns have been about whether TV makes people lazier and less varied in their social habits, and in particular whether it causes more violence in society. The research shares the problem of much social science, when faced with controversy: it is difficult to provide definite proof of cause and effect.
Arguably, to show programmes to children in a laboratory and then test whether they become more aggressive only illustrates how children behave in a laboratory, rather than in the home or the playground. Even where violent behaviour clearly does occur in response to a violent programme, there is still the question of how to separate the TV cause from other causes, such as family upbringing, neighbourhood life, and so on. Many have been willing to accept the difficulties of such proof, on the grounds that authority figures might use evidence of links between TV violence and real violence as a justification for controlling what is shown, and, in a broader sense, for social control. Others have argued that, given the very large amount of violence on TV (a consequence of the fact that most narratives are based around conflict that is often resolved by violence), and given the sheer amount of time that many people watch it, it is difficult to believe that these images could have no effect.
Some think that TV encourages the view that the world is a more violent place than it really is. Argument has also centred on appropriate broadcast times for programmes that are primarily aimed at adult audiences. In Britain a watershed time of 9 p. m. acts as a guide to broadcasters, based on the assumption that children are no longer watching TV by then. With access within households to video recording of programmes, this guideline has less relevance than in pre-video years.
The impact of TV on political processes has also been the focus of intense and unresolved debate. TV organizations are keen to present themselves as independent public watchdogs, working to ensure that abuses of power do not go unchecked. Although TV advocates often claim to present a window on the world-a picture of reality-which gives average citizens unprecedented access to the world outside their community, TV can only present a tiny selection of what happens in the world. Techniques of presentation and editing, necessary to communicate accessibly to the audience, can simplify and distort complex problems. Critics claim that TV is very poor at explaining difficult but important situations, such as the ...