Post-Newtown, Entertainment Biz Needs Cohesive Messaging

As the people of Newtown, Conn., and around the world still try to understand the horrific Dec. 14 school shooting, debate is raging about how to prevent such violent acts in the future. Possible gun control legislation and addressing mental health issues have come to the forefront. There’s another angle to the shooting that is also in the spotlight: violence portrayed on TV, in movie theaters, online and in video games.

Unconfirmed reports had school shooter Adam Lanza playing the popular video game “Call of Duty” for hours at a time. The only response from the video game industry has been from Hal Halpin, president of the nonprofit Entertainment Consumers Association, who said, "I'd simply and respectfully point to the lack of evidence to support any causal link."

Meanwhile, as a Dec. 20 article in the New York Times points out, TV and movie studios are vetting their content for violent references and scenes. For example, the Times reported that episodes of NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” were pulled, Fox pulled an episode of "American Dad" and events were canceled for Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”

The Newtown shootings hit Hollywood hard, as industry executives debate the entertainment business’ responses to the incident. The Times points out that 2012 has been a particularly reflective year, as two other incidents required a crisis response: the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida last spring, and the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting over the summer.

While fallout from those incidents lasted for days, Newtown will linger, possibly triggering a legislative response to violent imagery. This is why, as studios make adjustments with their own content for the short term, there should be cohesive, collaborative messaging from the industry as a whole about on-screen violence, its position on it and what steps the industry will take to address it.

Competition for entertainment dollars is fierce. But if there were ever a time for entertainment industry competitors to join together to craft a crisis plan with strong message points, this is it.

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