Comments that violence on TV begets more violence are an insult to the country’s intelligence

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Why don’t government lackeys Google the absurd things they say before they blurt them out?

Admittedly, Hlaudi Motsoeneng is past caring what people think of him; or the asinine and trite things that come out of his mouth. His assertion that showing violent protests on TV news leads to more violence is as absurd as it is that he remains in his position, despite the Public Protector’s ruling and two court rulings that he is illegitimately in charge.

I asked The Google: “Does watching violence on TV cause people to be violent?” and got a mostly negative answer to the question.

“Watching violence in the media does not cause crime,” summed up the second result, from Psychology Today. “Violent tendencies reside within the personality, whether or not the person watches programming depicting violence. The television programme, the movie, or the video game do not turn him into something alien to his basic personality,” wrote Dr Stanton Samenow, about ” the absurdity of such a thesis”.

The first result, from the American Psychological Association, was a more measured finding, quoting several different bodies of research, finding that “exposure to media violence is just one of several factors that can contribute to aggressive behaviour”.

As the New York Times wrote after the horrendous Sandy Hook school shootings in 2013, “what’s missing are studies on whether watching violent media directly leads to committing extreme violence”.

Summing up a “comprehensive review of the literature on media violence to date” by scientific journal The Lancet in 2005, the paper wrote: “The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitisation toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children”.

The key word is “desensitisation”. If anything, us over-exposed South Africans are desensitised to the violence we see on SABC news, knowing it is just the stark reality of our country where the ruling party doesn’t care.

The role of violence in computer games, for instance, has been a consistent criticism of them for as long as I have been a technology journalist. I don’t play first-person shooters (FPS) myself, but I do know lots of matured, resolved, grown-ups who do. None of whom have become violent because they virtually kill aliens in Halo or steal cars in Grand Theft Auto. Millions of people play such games every day, watch violent movies about rogue special forces operatives who become bank robbers, and the like. None of them suddenly start burning schools.

I was invited on an SABC radio show about 10 years ago where a particularly upset parent raved about video game violence. Do you let your four-year-old watch a cartoon channel, I asked, to which she replied “of course”, as if I was an imbecile. I will admit to taking great delight in pointing out the hypocrisy of this to her. Watch half an hour of cartoons and tell me that they aren’t filled with a disproportionate amount of (albeit cartoonish) violence and mayhem. Wile E. Coyote is regularly blown up with dynamite, as the Road Runner lets him fall off the edge of a canyon and plunge to what would be a certain death even for the seemingly nine-lived Motsoeneng.

As the New York Times pointed out: “Although exposure to violent media isn’t the only or even the strongest risk factor for violence, it’s more easily modified than other risk factors (like being male or having a low socioeconomic status or low IQ)”.

Motsoeneng would understand that last factor particularly well; especially as he tries to dumb down the state media ahead of the local elections in August and tries to hide the massive rise in violent service delivery protests. That’s called censorship.

There is a reason that the SABC is often called “his master’s voice” and Motsoeneng has come to epitomise that old record label phrase. It is both an insult to the country’s intelligence and a grievous assault on our democracy that he continues to get away with it.

This article first appeared on Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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