News you may have missed...
May, 2000

Self-proclaimed Aussie prince marks 30 years

CANBERRA, April 21 (Reuters) - It would be hard to find a monarch more down-to-earth than Australia's Prince Leonard. The self-styled sovereign, ruler of the Hutt River Province Principality for 30 years this weekend, has no airs or graces and definitely does not travel with a leather toilet seat as Britain's Queen Elizabeth was rumoured to have done on her recent Down Under tour. With a broad accent typical of outback Australia and skin wizened by a lifetime under the harsh desert sun, Prince Leonard would fail to stand out in a crowd of farmers. However, his property -- an isolated, 75-square-kilometre (28 square-mile) farm about 400 km (248 miles) north of Perth -- is a far cry from the typical outback farm. Eccentric wheat farmer Leonard George Casley seceded from the state of Western Australia and the Commonwealth of Australia on April 21, 1970.

The Hutt River property near the tiny town of Northampton has been transformed from a typical wheat and cattle station into a tourist destination boasting its own chapel, art gallery, post office, motel, shopping centre and camp site. "It all started over a row over wheat quotas, no other reason," Prince Leonard, 74, told Reuters in a telephone interview from Hutt River Province as he prepared for the principality's 30th anniversary celebrations this weekend. "I decided to secede from Western Australia -- and if you are going to do something you might as well do it properly."

However, the Kalgoorlie-born former accountant never realised his protest would lead to the business of nation-building. But with a strong sense of mischievousness, a lateral legal mind and sheer stubbornness, the self-styled monarch found great enjoyment in exploiting arcane provisions of British and Australian laws by declaring himself a prince. Using the Imperial Treasons Act as defence, Len and his wife Shirley adopted the titles prince and princess and, to comply with protocols of statehood, adopted a flag and began issuing passports, minting money and printing stamps. The secession of the tax-free principality has confounded lawyers, prime ministers and the Australian Taxation office. "The principality has become a case study for international lawyers and other groups," he said with obvious pride.

The prince -- Australia's sole true blue monarch -- said his outback fiefdom, with a population of 60, has become a business in its own right over the years although he declined to reveal details of the principality's annual budget. Hutt River issues passports for A$250 each and now has 13,000 citizens internationally. The principality, which has its own national anthem, sells stamps and paper currency to the estimated 30,000 visitors coming to Hutt River every year. It also does a nice line in knighthoods and diplomatic appointments -- much to the chagrin of the Australian government which is left to warn naive foreigners over the dubious titles. Though landlocked, the principality has a surprising number of admirals in command of Hutt River's non-existent navy.

The Australian government does not recognise the Hutt River Province legally or in any other way, and rules its passports, coins, royal titles, and diplomatic appointments invalid. But it has never made any serious legal attempt to close the principality down. "It has no separate sovereignty and remains subject to the Australian Constitution and the laws of Australia," according to a government advisory circular. "The Australian government does not recognise the 'royal titles' nor titles of office, such as 'head of state', 'state minister' and 'minister for foreign affairs' assumed by the family owning the property."

But the prince takes great pleasure in teasing the government with his province which he likes to compare to Monaco, the Channel Isles and Hong Kong. Late one Friday evening in 1977, the Prince declared war on Australia but ceased the state of war first thing the following Monday. He then declared that under the law of war, Australia was obliged to respect Hutt's sovereignty as an undefeated nation. Prince Leonard sent an invitation to Prime Minister John Howard to join this weekend's anniversary celebrations at Hutt River which will involve church services, investitures and evening entertainment. "He hasn't said 'no' yet so you never know," said Prince Leonard. "We also invited the Queen (Elizabeth) but the Governor-General wrote back with her apologies as she won't be in the area at the time."

Sex videos teach China's pandas to copulate

BEIJING, April 21 (Reuters) - A Chinese research institute is showing low libido giant pandas videotapes of others of their extinction-threatened species copulating in hopes of prodding them to mate. It appears to be working, a Chinese panda expert said on Friday. "As part of the pandas' education, we make those which are sexually inept watch videos of other pandas having sex," said Zhang Hemin, director of China Giant Panda Research and Conservation Centre in the southwestern province of Sichuan. "This has proved to be effective," Zhang told Reuters in a telephone interview. The centre's extensive panda sexual reproduction programme has reduced the number of its impotent males to 60 percent from 80 percent, he said.

Zhang said the centre, which has 46 pandas, about half of them males, constantly finetunes a programme aimed at reviving China's population of pandas, which produces few young in captivity and is declining in the wild. It includes adding nutrition to the diet of bamboo on which giant pandas feed in the wild, exercise sessions and group socialising -- all to revive China's fast disappearing "national treasure". Giant pandas are so rare that there are only about 125 in zoos around the world and an estimated 1,000 in the mountains in China's provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, experts say. Poaching and logging have reduced their natural habitat in recent years, but World Wildlife Fund officials have said panda conservation efforts in China have increased.

With their natural habitats diminishing, pandas in captivity face a sexual crisis, Zhang said. "It's mainly the males having problems," Zhang said. "During mating season in the wild, young pandas watch the adults fight for their partners and perform copulation. That's how they learn all about producing offspring." But once pandas become cooped up in man-made enclosures, they become isolated, resulting in jaded sexual desires, Zhang said. "Pandas get stressed up when the environment is not conducive. It may be because they feel claustrophobic when the cage is too small, the walls are too high or the temperature is just not right," Zhang said. He said the centre started showing videos to pandas in hopes of replacing the education they would have got in the wild. "Sometimes we let them watch others copulating, and then let them watch the videos one or two days after," Zhang said. The visual and audio stimulation was effective in getting the animals sexually aroused, he said. "Pandas used to be locked up alone, but now we increase their activity time so that the males and females can interact more with one another," Zhang said.

When nature does not take its course, centre researchers resort to the laboratory, Zhang said. "Some females are picky about the males and that's nothing we can do about it," Zhang said. "We have a sperm bank storing sperm from 15 pandas and we'll use artificial methods." But Zhang denied recent Chinese media reports that the centre recently fed pandas sex-enhancing pills such as Viagra. In 1992, the centre tried feeding pandas some traditional Chinese medicine believed to improve the sex drive, but that failed to have the desired effect. Zhang said although such drugs increased the normal copulation time of between 21 and 27 seconds, the females tended to dislike prolonged sexual activity. "The males became really violent after taking the drug and started battering the females," he said. "So we don't use such drugs now."

Miami rumor mill buzzes with Elian tales

MIAMI, April 23 (Reuters) - In the stew of passion, suspicion and political scheming that surrounded Elian Gonzalez's five-month stay in Miami, no rumor was too outlandish and no tale too silly to gain credence. The stories that circulated in Miami and were proffered in earnest included:

  • Cuban President Fidel Castro planned to kill Elian in a blood sacrifice to appease Santeria gods and retain control over Cuba.
  • Elian's Miami relatives had planned to kill him to keep him from going back to Cuba.
  • The infant seen in the arms of Elian's father during his stay in the United States is a substitute baby. Juan Miguel Gonzalez's real baby son is being held hostage in Cuba to ensure the father won't defect while in the United States. Alternately, a rumor is circulating that Cuba is holding Elian's grandmothers hostage to ensure the father's return.
  • Counter-revolutionary gunmen surrounded the Miami relatives' home, prepared to shoot if federal agents came for Elian.
  • The street in front of the Miami relatives' home was to be declared a federal territory, giving federal agents free rein.
  • Officials planned to have agents who came to fetch Elian wear Disney character costumes to avoid frightening the 6-year-old boy.
  • Castro enlisted Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who recently attended a Havana summit, to carry a threat to President Clinton, whom Arafat visited in Washington on Thursday and Friday. The threat might have been that Cuba would unleash a flood of refugees unless Clinton returns Elian.
  • U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno cut a deal to return Elian to Cuba in exchange for Cuba's taking back some Cubans involved in a Louisiana prison hostage siege in December.

    But when the agents finally came for Elian before dawn on Saturday, no shots were fired and no streets federalized. Some of the agents wore helmets, but none sported mouse ears. The origins of some of the tales are easy to trace. Castro himself offered the relatives-kill-Elian scenario and his government put forth the armed counter-revolutionary claim. Police took it seriously enough to check out, but deemed it unfounded. The Santeria sacrifice plot was outlined in a note one of the Miami relatives slipped to the nun hosting Elian's January meeting with his grandmothers, according to the Miami Herald. But other versions have circulated in handbills distributed among the crowd gathered outside the Miami relatives' home. The Arafat-messenger ploy was detailed in a news release from a Cuban exile group. The prisoners-for-Elian swap story came from a group of lawyers who sought documentation in a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. government. It has not been verified. The origins of the swapped-baby tale have baffled even Bill DelGrosso, who oversees Miami-Dade County's rumor-control hotline.

    The hotline was set up to quell suspicions during a Miami race riot in 1980. It has been activated during disasters such as when Hurricane Andrew smashed south Florida in 1992 when it was used to quash reports that research monkeys who escaped from storm-damaged cages were carrying the AIDS virus and should be shot on sight. The monkeys were uninfected. "It's like the old game of telephone. Someone says one thing, by the time it gets to the 10th person it's a completely different story," DelGrosso said. "You're dealing with a crowd where you can hear bits and pieces of a conversation as you're walking through and you start to put those things together." As in many child custody disputes, the battle over Elian has generated rumors of wife beating, child abuse, sexual perversion and clouded paternity, all false, according to the father.

    Other tales arose from Elian's miraculous survival at sea. The boy floated alone in the Atlantic on an inner tube for two days, and is said to have been protected by dolphins, whose guardianship of castaways dates back to Greek mythology. Elian is also credited with summoning images of the Virgin Mary on a household mirror and a Miami bank building. "You've got the child himself. There's sort of a mythology that's grown up around him that is very deep-seated in the Cuban community," DelGrosso said. Other claims surfaced on that mother of all rumor mills, the Internet. Blame the Internet for the one that Texas Gov. George Bush sought Elian's help in drawing Spanish-speaking voters to his presidential campaign.

    And finally, there's talk about the photo of the smiling Elian with his father, released by a lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez on Saturday after they were reunited. The rumor in Miami is that the photo was doctored -- and the evidence cited is that the boy's hair looks longer in the happy photo than in the picture of the terrified Elian taken at the time of the 5:15 a.m. (0915 GMT) raid in Little Havana the same day.

    Man nabbed for tossing hats at Georgian leader

    TBILISI, April 20 (Reuters) - Georgian security officials arrested a man on Thursday after he threw a suspicious package at President Eduard Shevardnadze's car in the capital Tbilisi. "Police have discovered it was a cellophane bag containing knitted woollen hats," a presidential press spokesman told Reuters by telephone. Shevardnadze's armour-plated Mercedes was leaving Georgia's parliament building when the man, whose age and name were not given, tossed the bag containing the hats. Some of the president's heavily-armed bodyguards quickly pounced on the man, who was hauled off for questioning. Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, has survived two serious assassination attempts and a small army of bodyguards now shadows his every move. "We don't know if it was some sort of bizarre protest or if he was just deranged," said the spokesman.

    US parents troubled by "Panty Raider" CD-ROM game

    NEW YORK, May 3 (Reuters) - Parents and critics are pressing a unit of prestigious publisher Simon & Schuster to reconsider releasing an Internet game "Panty Raider," in which participants find models to strip them down to their underwear to satisfy space aliens threatening to destroy Earth. Women's groups and family advocates, who have sent E-mail letters to Simon & Schuster Interactive complaining about what they believe is the portrayal of women and girls as sexual objects and boys and men as angry and violent, say they are neither censors nor have they lost their sense of humor. "We want to make Simon & Schuster aware of why we think it is problematic," said Joe Kelly, executive director of the advocacy group "Dads and Daughters," who drew attention to the CD-ROM game coming out at the end of May. "In the wake of stuff like Columbine and other school shootings, which were all young men who did the shooting -- obviously disturbed and angry young men -- I don't think that's something to be made fun of or spoof," said Kelly, whose non-profit group for fathers and daughters is based in Duluth, Minnesota. "I have a sense of humor and I'm no prude but I'm sorry, this 'joke' ain't funny."

    Simon & Schuster, a company that boasts best-selling authors such as Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Joan Collins, Frank McCourt and even American literary legend Ernest Hemingway in its stable, said the CD-ROM was directed at "mature" audiences of adult men. "No children or teen-agers should be playing the game, period," said Simon & Schuster Interactive spokesman Peter Binazeski. He added that the Web site would be blocked by site blockers. "The game is what it is. It's a comedic title, comedy is a gray area, some will be offended and some will find some parts humorous," Binazeski said. "It's not for everybody."

    A company press release in February described "PANTY RAIDER: From Here To Immaturity," the full title of the game. "PANTY RAIDER takes gamers to Model Isle where a supermodel photo shoot is taking place. The player is on a mission to photograph specific styles and colors of panties worn by supermodels to satisfy three testosterone-driven aliens and keep them from blowing up the Earth," it said. To win, participants must strip a supermodel down to her bra and panties then give photographs of her to aliens who have "worn out" their underwear catalog. If they don't, "then the frustrated aliens are forced to take their hormone driven anger out on the planet."

    Jodi Jacobson, co-director of the Takoma Park, Maryland, Center for Health and Gender Equity and a mother, said she was "by no means a censor" but had written to the publisher. She said the game "was offensive in a really straightforward way." Jacobson said she wanted her children to "grow up to be sexually healthy people but I also don't want them constantly bombarded with these kinds of images that locate their gender roles in only these very narrow ways." Kelly said that "lures" in the game to induce undressing such as "tiny mints (lunch!)" made fun of anorexia, a disease that kills girls and women and was "no more suited to joking than cancer."

    Russia Internet pranksters sentenced to prison

    MOSCOW, May 15 (Russia) - Two Russians were sentenced to a year each in prison on Monday for posing on the Internet as renegade nuclear rocket commanders with plans to wipe out cities in Europe, Itar-Tass news agency reported. The two had posted messages claiming to be officers at a strategic rocket unit, driven to the edge by the harsh realities of post-Soviet life, who would launch a nuclear strike on European cities if their demands were not met, Tass said. The hoax triggered the alarm of the U.S. FBI and police in Austria, who both asked Russia to investigate, Tass said. Tass said a court in the provincial city of Kaluga had handed down the sentence after the FSB security police uncovered the pranksters. They were convicted under a statute that outlaws alarmist hoaxes causing material damage or danger to the public. Court officials could not be reached for comment. The Internet has begun to flourish in Russia, where people, although poor, have a high level of technical education. The FSB claims the right to tap into Internet traffic in the interest of national security, alarming some privacy advocates.

    Music firms file U.S. suit over lewd holiday songs

    NEW YORK, May 23 (Reuters) - The owners of the copyrights to some of America's most popular holiday songs sued a musical production company on Tuesday for selling such lewd tunes as "Rudolph the Deep Throat Reindeer" and "Frosty the Pervert." The suit, filed in U.S. federal court in Manhattan, claimed that Scott Gordon and his Party on Parody Productions (POPP) used the copyrighted works without authorization and sold them on tapes and compact discs entitled "Matt Rogers' Rated X Mas." The plaintiffs, which include Haven Gillespie Music Publishing Co. and Warner/Chappell Music Co., allege that the songs are not parodies as claimed by POPP. "They are simply unauthorized exploitations of plaintiffs' famous holiday songs for cynical commercial gain, with the lyrics of the original works replaced by lewd lyrics," the suit alleged. POPP began manufacturing and selling the music in 1998 and now distributes over the Internet through and other retail distributors, the suit alleged. "Rated X Mas" contains eight songs, seven of which are based entirely on music from copyrighted works, the suit alleged. The plaintiffs hold the copyrights for the music in question, which includes "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," "Frosty the Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." The suit gives examples of graphic lyrics that turn the happy melodies into tunes about Santa's sexual encounter with Mommy and Rudolph's life as a transvestite.

    Judge orders mistrial after verdict coin-toss

    LOUISVILLE - A Kentucky judge has declared a mistrial in a murder case after finding out that the jury decided the defendant's fate with the flip of a coin. Judge Kenneth Conliffe of Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville ordered a retrial after the jury foreman admitted the panel tossed a coin to decide whether Phillip Givens was guilty of murder or manslaughter. The panel had decided Givens was guilty but could not agree whether it was manslaughter or murder. The coin toss wound up imposing on Givens the more serious of the two verdicts, one that could have resulted in a life sentence, according to court records. Givens, 28, had been charged with killing his 29-year-old girlfriend last year. Word of the coin toss spread by gossip and eventually reached the judge, who queried the foreman on the rumors. He ordered that the case be retried in September. Mark Chandler, the lawyer who represented Givens, said: "It's something I read about in law school but something I've never seen in 15 years of trial practice."

    Prostitutes, dogs found in Colombian prison

    BOGOTA, May 1 (Reuters) - They made their own booze, hired prostitutes and kept Rottweilers as pets ... until the police retook control of Colombia's largest prison from the inmates. In a massive weekend raid on the Modelo penitentiary, police said on Monday they discovered a private sauna and gym, distilleries, drugs and dogs. And there were weapons everywhere. Police were also surprised to find 511 women in the all-male prison, allegedly prostitutes hired to stay for several days to offer their services to inmates. National Police Chief Rosso Jose Serrano described the prison as a hotbed of corruption and a center of extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and prostitution. Inmates hid radios, cellular phones, and computers in their cells, which police said they used to manage criminal bands outside the prison. "In each wall there was a false tile or brick and behind that tile (there was) a radio, a weapon, marijuana, ammunition," Serrano said. One inmate, a leader of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), enjoyed a sauna and a private gym in his cell, police said. He has been ordered transferred to another prison. The massive sweep of the prison came after 25 inmates were killed in bloody clashes between rival gangs in the penitentiary in a 12-hour battle on Thursday. The search of the overcrowded prison also yielded 35 firearms -- including two AK-47 assault rifles -- nearly nine pounds (four kg) of explosives, knives and grenades.

    Elite Kenyan police unit turns to life of crime

    NAIROBI, May 16 (Reuters) - An elite Kenyan police squad set up to fight violent crime has been disbanded after its officers were implicated in carjackings, theft, torture and execution, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday. Codenamed Alfa Romeo, the squad was set up three years ago to tackle a spate of carjackings, bank robberies and violent crime in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Instead its officers formed their own carjacking syndicate, stole money recovered from bank robbers and tortured and executed suspects, the Daily Nation reported. "It was the worst terror squad the police force has ever had," one senior police officer said. "Its officers were ruthless and brutal. They were powerful and were even feared by senior police officers." Police investigators first became suspicious when accused carjackers named members of the Alfa Romeo squad as their accomplices. "We cannot allow murderers to rule the police force," another senior officer said. "Many of us knew the squad comprised criminals and they executed innocent people but nobody dared to raise a finger against them." Sources said suspects arrested by the squad were so badly tortured that many appeared for trial on stretchers. No action has been taken against the officers, the paper reported although one officer who apparently killed suspects and innocent people "with impunity" has faced justice of a different sort. He was shot and injured by detectives from another police unit after a deal went sour.

    Kansans spared by winds see guardian in news photo

    PARSONS, Kan., April 25 (Reuters) - Some residents of Parsons believe divine intervention may have saved them from a tornado that ripped through their small Kansas town last week, and they say they have the picture to prove it. Hours before a twister destroyed or heavily damaged more than 200 homes and businesses but caused only minor injuries to a handful of townspeople, a front-page photo appeared in the Parsons Sun newspaper that many now say depicts an angel or a being resembling Jesus hovering in the air. In the time-lapse shot, taken at a local carnival and published last Wednesday, the bright lights from a Ferris wheel and other rides blur into one another. In the center, the lights come together to form what is being described as a spiritual protector that spared the lives of local people. "It looks like the body of Christ. His arms are outstretched, and he has on a long white robe," Salvation Army disaster coordinator Deborah Abner said. Mayor Tom McLarty described the picture as clear. "It doesn't take any imagination to see the image with outstretched arms," he said. "And to think the carnival was wiped off the map just a few hours later." State and federal officials were still assessing the tornado's effects on Tuesday, but so far they had counted 73 homes and business destroyed and 140 with major damage. Parsons, population about 12,000, is in southeast Kansas.

    Porn stars crave recognition on fringes of Cannes

    CANNES, France, May 18 (Reuters) - Playing in a porn film may seem like just doing what comes naturally, but international porn stars insist their acting is every bit as professional and demanding as the work highlighted at the Cannes Film Festival. Poking fun at the official festival only a few miles away, the birthday-suit set handed out its own awards at a raunchy rival ceremony that ran on late into the night on Wednesday at this Riviera resort. Actresses ranging from young Eastern Europeans to hoary American veterans arrived at a hotel near Cannes like celebrities turning up for any regular festival bash, albeit clad in fluorescent rubber and cutaway leopardskin. Any lingering illusion of normality was shattered when breasts were suddenly bared or skirts lifted to catcalls from a crowd of drooling young male admirers pressed against steel barricades.

    There were golden trophies, red carpets and tearful acceptance speeches -- just like at the official festival from which they are banned -- plus graphic sex scenes relayed on overhead screens to hundreds of champagne-swilling guests. The erotic genre may not be hot on dialogue, but stars were adamant their job was an art form that took hard work to perfect. "I challenge any mainstream actor or actress to take off their clothes and have sex in front of people and tell me that's not acting," said platinum blond Stacey Valentine, thrilled after scooping the award for best American Actress. Porn film producers sporting uniform dark glasses, which many kept on indoors, said a trend towards subtler scripts had taken hold in recent years. "The quality of the production is coming up -- it's not just someone coming round and saying I'm the pizza man. We're trying to put stories in," said Julian St. Jox, a director at Black Market Video in the U.S.

    The awards, a figurine of a golden woman angel bearing aloft a sheaf of corn, are named the Golden Hots, parodying the Golden Palm which is awarded to the best film at the Cannes festival, the world's largest cinematic gathering. "It's my Golden Palm, for me," said Fred Coppula, brandishing his Golden Hot for "Best European Director". Organisers of the annual porn awards explained that they aimed to improve the image of an industry they said was worth 25-30 billion francs ($3.4-$4 billion) a year in Europe. "We want to reward what gets forgotten at Cannes," said Pierre Cavalier, a festival organiser for the past seven years. The ceremony, which was held at a beachfront hotel in a Cannes suburb, has been banned from central Cannes by the mayor since 1992. But Cavalier said he hoped one day it could return to the official festival's doorstep. "We are not part of the Cannes festival, but now we are part of the landscape," he said.

    "Save the whales" trip beached -- by a whale

    SAN FRANCISCO, May 19 (Reuters) - A California activist who embarked on a trans-Pacific sailing adventure dedicating to saving the whales called off the attempt on Friday after his boat ran into one of the large mammals. Michael Reppy of Sausalito, Calif., set out on May 10 seeking to set a new record for a solo sail from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan. The trip was intended to publicize the plight of captive whales and the alleged slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fishing fleets. One day out Reppy reported that two whales "blew by" the his 60-foot (20 metre) ocean racer, "Thursday's Child," almost ripping the rudder off. While he initially believed no serious damage had occurred, the boat became increasingly difficult to control over the following days. On Thursday, he check again and discovered the bottom of the rudder was gone, presumably knocked off by one of the passing whales. "I feel stupid ... for taking so long to find which is obviously the cause of the steering problems I have been having," Reppy said in his log, posted on the trip's Web site,, on Friday. "And of course there is the irony of sailing to save whales and running into them."

    Finnish-born team sizzles to Swedish sauna crown

    STOCKHOLM, May 21 (Reuters) - Two Finnish-born Swedes have won the Swedish national sauna championships -- in which men and women try to outlast each other in a 100 degree Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) steam bath. "It was hot," said the new women's champion Hilkka Loimi who won with a time of four minutes 28 seconds in the wood-heated sauna. But things will get even hotter when she represents Sweden at the world sauna championships in August in Finland, where the top women contestants usually manage times of up to 13 minutes. Ari Petroff, born in Finnish Karelia but now from Boras in southern Sweden, renewed his men's title with a time of five minutes and 10 seconds. Finland has an even stronger sauna culture than Sweden, and most Finnish homes have their own sauna or share one with neighbours in apartment blocks.

    U.S. study charts violence in animated films

    CHICAGO, May 23 (Reuters) - Intentional violence has become a growing part of feature-length, animated films, a review of more than 60 years of movies, including such classics as "Bambi" and "Cinderella," found on Tuesday. The Harvard researchers who released the report said parents should be aware that a "G" rating on such films does not mean that very young children will be spared violent depictions in videos rented for them. "Our content analysis suggests that animated films determined to be acceptable for the general audience by a ratings board contain a significant amount of violence," the study said. "A 'G' rating does not automatically signify a level of violence acceptable for very young viewers. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) should consider changing the current age-based rating system to one based on content, which is what an overwhelming number of parents prefer," it added. "In addition, parents need to preview films themselves or use online resources to judge appropriateness of individual films for their children. Physicians and parents should not overlook videocassettes as a source of exposure to violence for children," it said.

    Fumie Yokota and Kimberly Thompson of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis said they looked at 74 films available for rental in the United States, from "Snow White" -- the first of the genre in 1937 -- to 1999's "The King and I." The average amount of time depicting acts of violence has risen from six minutes in 1940 to 9.5 minutes in 1999, they said. For purposes of the study violence was listed as light or funny (Dumbo shooting peanuts at the ringmaster), neutral, or dark and sinister (a hunter killing Bambi's mother). Films that contain an above-average amount of violence include "Quest for Camelot," 28 percent; "Happily Ever After," 24.1 percent; "The Sword in The Stone," 21.4 percent; "A Bug's Life," 19.3 percent and "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," 18.6 per cent. The study said those with below-average time devoted to violence included "A Goofy Movie," 2.7 percent; "Dumbo," 2 percent; "The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh," 1.3 percent; and "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "My Neighbor Totoro," both less than 1 percent. That last film had only six seconds of violence in its 5,160-second running length, the study said. "Cinderella," which runs 4,560 seconds, has 273 seconds of violence, the report said, while "Bambi," 4,140 seconds long, features 252 seconds of violence.

    The authors said they found 125 injuries in the films, 62 of which resulted in death; but bad characters were 23 times more likely to die from an injury than good ones. In addition violent acts by good characters were most often portrayed as light or funny, while violent acts by bad ones were most often dark or sinister. "Our content analysis reveals a striking behavioral message implied by many of the G-rated animated films that the good guys triumph over the bad through the use of physical force," the authors said. The study, with a complete list of all 74 films and the types of violence involved, was published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Last month's edition

    Back to the TC home page