UB Professor Says National Tv-Turnoff Week is Not The Answer

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: April 8, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While TV-Free America (TVFA) has designated April 22-28 National TV-Turnoff Week, a University at Buffalo associate professor of communication says eliminating TV from American life is an "extreme measure"and not warranted.

"Just like with anything else -- the key is moderation," says Mary Cassata, Ph.D. "We have to recognize that television is an institution in our environment, as important as other institutions such as school or church."

Cassata, whose expertise includes the effects of mass media, has done in-depth research on TV and children, the history of television and the fundamental process of communication that relates to television.

She maintains that television is educational and fosters creativity in children.

According to TVFA, which expects more than 5 million people in 40,000 schools, families, libraries, churches and community groups to participate in National TV-Turnoff Week, many educators say television represents their greatest challenge. Cassata disagrees firmly.

"The ills in our society need to be addressed -- like unemployment and the disintegration of the family," asserts Cassata. "Values are disintegrating and TV is not the cause of it.

"There are more important things to clean up -- more important social problems -- than television," she adds.

Cassata says, "Television is unfairly the scapegoat for many things because it's easy to point at and easy to turn off."

Her advice: "Don't turn it off. Instead, try to be intelligent about its use."

She believes teachers should try to use TV as a teaching tool and integrate it into the classroom. Parents, she adds, are responsible for taking a proactive role when it comes to finding good programs for their children and then instilling that sense in their children.

Cassata points out that it is important for children to develop a "visual literacy" in order to be able to interpret the messages of the mass media like those underlying in advertising.

"Children need to be aware of what is out there," says Cassata. "We are supposed to help depict the real world to children."

Contrary to TVFA's assertion that television viewing is passive, Cassata says people watch TV for a number of reasons and that viewers are actively thinking and reacting as they watch.

While agreeing that the average of four hours a day that American children spend watching TV is excessive, she notes that the actual long-term influence of TV viewing is impossible to measure since we are all distinct individuals who watch for different reasons.