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Youth organisation combats media violence

Youngsters often have easy access to violent computer games

(Keystone)

The Swiss Pro Juventute foundation has launched a petition demanding better protection of children and youngsters from violence in the media.

The youth organisation is calling for the creation of an independent body to set nationwide age limits on content provided by the entertainment industry, such as DVDs or computer games.

At a news conference in Bern on Thursday Pro Juventute pointed out that children and teenagers have almost unlimited and uncontrolled access to violent images via television, their computers or mobile phones.

The proposed national certification board would evaluate films, videos, DVDs, computer games and other media content and determine nationwide age limits. Currently, 26 different cantonal authorities take on this responsibility.

This can lead to absurd situations, according to the head of canton Basel City's justice department, Guy Morin.

"It makes no sense to limit entry to a film to those over age 18 in Basel, and then set that limit to 12 in other places," he told swissinfo. "We lack credibility."

Morin says that with most retailers acting on a national level, countrywide regulation is needed.

Rights of the child

But for the youth organisation, protecting children from violent images is not just about business, but a duty as well.

"There shouldn't be different laws for each canton offering different levels of protection," said Jolanda Bertozzi of Pro Juventute. "It contradicts the Swiss constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."

"The convention says that children have a right to access to media appropriate for their age, but they also have the right to be protected from inappropriate content or content that is too demanding."

The sponsors of the petition say they aren't aiming for censorship, or singling out individual products.

"Our concern is the daily repetition of violent images, and the extended periods of time spent playing a computer game," Bertozzi told swissinfo. "If you add news and films to the mix, it becomes difficult for a child to understand the nature of violence."

Self-regulation

For Pro Juventute, the lack of national guidelines has meant that at best some sectors of the entertainment industry have practised self-regulation and introduced a series of non-compulsory age limits.

One example given was that of a computer game recommended for children over the age of three in Switzerland, but only for over-12s in Germany.

Limiting access to content is only part of Pro Juventute's proposal. It says that youngsters and parents must be educated about violence in the media.

"It's difficult for parents to educate their children because rapid changes in technology mean that they can't keep up," added Bertozzi. "Parents often have little idea of the content that is proposed to youngsters."

The computer gaming industry lobby group, the Swiss Interactive Entertainment Association has rejected the proposal. It said further rules are unnecessary because existing measures have proven sufficient to protect youngsters.

The association's guidelines set out age and advertising limits for entertainment software.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

A EU study has shown that:
Nearly every second child between the age of six and 13 has his or her own television.
81% use a computer.
More than half of them have had access to the web.
More than a third have used chat systems.

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Pro Juventute

Pro Juventute is a foundation that tries to ensure that children's needs and rights are respected in Switzerland. It provides financial aid and contributes to the personal development of children and teenagers.

Pro Juventute bases its actions on the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The foundation, set up in 1912, is private, politically independent and neutral from a confessional point of view.

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Across the Atlantic

The North American Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organisation that applies and enforces ratings for computer and video games in the US and Canada.

The decision to found the ESRB by the computer game industry in 1994 was influenced by violent content found in games and came after pressure from the US Congress.

The ESRB has often been accused though of not rating games harshly enough for violence and other related themes.

In November 2005, senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act. It called for federal enforcement of the ESRB ratings system to protect children from inappropriate content. The bill did not become law.

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