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The world today is exposed to many things, good, bad, useful, and useless. The world is networked in such a way that a press of a button will show you what you want and at times what you don’t want.

Today the world is dominated by information. The presence of social networking sites has just taken information sharing to a whole new level. Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networking sites, have turned out to be major competitors for mainstream print and electronic media. Today, social networking sites and mainstream media have learned to complement each other. But are mainstream media, particularly electronic, in an attempt to compete with social media moving away from traditional ethics? Exposing violent and gruesome scenes in the media has become a trend.

As far as mainstream media is concerned, there are authorities that can regulate the content of print media. The Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) functions as the body which regulates the content in newspapers. The PCCSL has, in fact, drafted a set of guidelines for all newspapers. While the print media more or less adhere to the guidelines, the situation in the electronic media is quite different. The competition between media organizations for Target Rating Point (TRP) has made it difficult for institutions to draft guidelines.

PCCSL, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sukumar Rockwood speaking to Nation stated that as far as the electronic media was concerned, there was no mechanism to monitor its content. He stated that there was an initiative taken a few years ago to bring all electronic media institutions to a common understanding on the matter. “But we were not successful in doing so owing to the competition among the institutions,” he said.

He also admitted that the division between social and mainstream  media was a gray area. “It is difficult to regulate the content published on social media platforms. Therefore, by the time remedial actions are taken, the damage has already been done,” Rockwood added. Meanwhile, the Government too had taken steps in the past to address this issue but had not been successful owing to the stiff opposition by media outlets which alleged that the guidelines curtailed media freedom.

Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Secretary, Vajira Narampanawa emphasized that media institutions needed to act with a sense of social responsibility when it came to telecasting, broadcasting and publishing content that would be deemed sensitive. He stated that a set of guidelines had been drafted by the Ministry and could be obtained from the ministry office. “There are several media organizations that have formulated their own code of ethics,” he said. In addition, Narampanawa added that the Ministry conducted training and awareness programmes to journalists and media personnel. “At the end of the day, it all depends on the institutions themselves,” he added.

According to Senior Lecturer Dr. Preneeth Abeysundara, Department of Sociology and Anthropology of University of Sri Jayewardenepura, in the study of biology and anthropology, the human is referred to as the human animal. “During certain stages of the evolutionary process, the human has been violent. This violence is still present, deep down. Therefore, the modern human has tendancies towards violence,” he said. “In the civilized countries, crime scenes are not exposed by the media as they consider it to be unethical. But here, it’s a form of marketing, where the incivility that is present in the subconscious mind of the viewer is reached out to.”

Clinical Psychiatrist Dr. N. Kumaranayake of Psychiatry Unit, Kiribathgoda Base Hospital said that people had a tendency to watch or read violence. “According to Sigmund Freud, the mind is an interaction of ego, super ego and id.  Id is where the pleasure principles and desires such as hunger, violence and sex are instinctively concealed. However, these negative graphic images and videos can be quite harmful to the mind of the viewer. Exposure to media violence can desensitize people to violence in the real world. Afterwards, they begin to actually enjoy watching it.

According to research, extensive reporting on suicide, rate of suicide tend to increase. This is due to people imitating what they see on media. In addition, viewing violent scenes is especially harmful to children. When violence is expressively displayed by mass media, children begin to perceive violence as normal. According to the social contract theory put forward by the American psychologist, Albert Bandura, children have a tendency to imitate what they see, rather than learn from one’s own experiences. Therefore, when they view violence, they become less sensitive to feelings of others, they become fearful of society, and they tend to behave in an aggressive and harmful way.

In addition, L. Rowell Huesmann and colleagues found, in their studies, that the children who watch many hours of violence show aggressive behaviour in elementary school, and when they become teenagers. Children, who watch violence at the age of eight, are more likely to be arrested or prosecuted for criminal acts as adults.”

When movies are shown on television, certain inappropriate or violent segments are censored. However, the effectiveness of this censoring is questionable. “I believe that censoring is inadequate. It actually creates more curiosity towards the topic. That makes it ineffective. It is better to avoid these types of movies altogether,” said Dr. Kumaranayake.