Buried deep in last week's ESA press release which detailed a million bucks worth of grants to non-profits was word that the National Institute on Media and the Family was to be one of nine funding recipients.
NIMF is an interesting selection for the ESA, to say the least. Over the years the group has been a highly vocal, politically well-connected, and rational (in contrast to certain other critics) thorn in the side of the video game industry.
As recently as November, 2005, for example, NIMF head David Walsh, flanked by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), gave the ESRB an "F" on its Annual Video Game Report Card. In its 2007 report card, NIMF charged the game industry with "an ominous backslide on multiple fronts." Walsh has also worked with Hillary Clinton and other members of Congress on video game sex and violence issues.
Given NIMF's history as self-appointed media watchdog, it's more than a little surprising to see the group accept funding from the video game industry. Doing so raises obvious conflict of interest questions and GamePolitics put those issues to NIMF. Late yesterday, spokesman Darin Broton responded on behalf of the organization:
For 12 years, the Institute has been a leader in helping families maximize the benefit and minimize the harm of media. To continue our success in helping parents navigate the constantly changing technology, the Institute will work with organizations that support its mission to give parents the tools to make them even more successful. Reasonable organizations can disagree on principle, but can work together for the betterment of families and children.
This isn’t the first time the Institute has worked with an organization it has been at odds with in the past. As you may recall, we worked together with the ESRB earlier this year during the release of GTA IV. The two organizations issued a joint statement telling parents to beware and follow the ESRB’s rating on the box. Where there are areas of agreement, the Institute will work with reasonable organizations to help parents and families. If the Institute has concerns with a particular issue within the gaming industry, we will respond appropriately. Nothing has changed.
Broton also told GP that the amount of the ESA grant is $50,000, but did not respond to our question as to whether NIMF approached the ESA regarding funding or vice-versa. According to the ESA press release the grant will be used to "develop an on-line e-learning zone for using the latest interactive technologies to help kids and adults understand the issues and potential areas of concern with the Internet."
GP: Broton is correct to point out that NIMF worked with ESRB on the GTA IV advisory. However, there's a wide gap between "working with" and "accepting money from." Whether one agrees or disagrees with NIMF and its mission, taking funding from the industry it purports to be watching is a credibility-damaging decision on the organization's part.
What were they thinking?