Adalian Column: PTC Uses Kids as Human Shields

Oct 12, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Last week, I called up several high-ranking TV executives in order to get their opinions of the Parents Television Council. I asked one to tell me the first word that came to mind when they thought of the watchdog organization.
“Vomit,” the executive said.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up how I feel, too.
Such a reaction might seem extreme. After all, the PTC sells itself as an advocacy organization looking to defend little ones from harmful images. The motto on its Web site reads, “Because our children are watching.”
Unfortunately, the PTC’s actions and words too often have indicated that its real mission includes pushing for government-sanctioned censorship of the media and the elimination of any and all programming that conflicts with its far-right social and political philosophies.
What’s more, rather than working with networks to figure out ways to increase family-friendly programming and offer true protection to children, the PTC is obsessed with denouncing shows clearly aimed at adult audiences.
The PTC doesn’t want to make TV safe for kids. It wants to make it safe only for those shows that fit into its narrowly constructed worldview of what constitutes acceptable TV. And when it identifies programming that doesn’t mesh with its agenda, the PTC goes into overdrive whipping up its base to take action.
“All they’re about is fund raising and court cases,” said one network executive who, like everyone interviewed for this column, spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “They would rather curse the darkness than light a candle.”
Consider: This summer, the PTC called on CBS affiliates to preempt the network’s “Swingtown” — even though the show aired in the last hour of prime time across the country. “‘Swingtown’ undermines the institutions of marriage and family,” the PTC said in calling for its boycott. “This show should not be on broadcast television — period.”
It doesn’t matter that “Swingtown” contained no obscene language or nudity. The fact that CBS aired the show at 10 p.m. in most of the country is irrelevant. Adult viewers simply shouldn’t be able to watch this show, period, according to the cultural crusaders of the PTC.
In fairness, the PTC also wants to cleanse the airwaves of anything it deems too violent. Or even just icky. The season premiere of Fox’s “Fringe” was labeled the “worst TV show of the week” by the group because of an opening scene involving some flesh-melting.
Attempts to honor our nation’s troops can also meet with disapproval from the PTC. It declared ABC’s Sept. 7 special “America United” one its “worst” shows because the broadcast — rated TV-14 by the network — contained some randy humor, an appearance by a scantily clad Pamela Anderson and a performance by Snoop Dogg.
“They’re trying to sanitize television to match up with their view of what’s appropriate,” one network insider told me. “I don’t think that’s quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked about freedom of speech.”
What’s most irksome — and dangerous — about the PTC is the way it uses children as human shields to hide its real agenda.
There’s nothing wrong with any person or group declaring their disgust with what’s on the small screen. It’s part of what I do for a living, after all.
But the PTC is being morally and intellectually dishonest by pretending that it’s simply trying to protect kids.
How are children helped when the PTC spends so much of its time railing against shows that clearly aren’t intended for their eyes? How are America’s families strengthened by an organization that wastes its time ginning up bogus outrage over a half-second shot of a penis on “Survivor” that could only be seen by viewers watching in HD and using the freeze-frame function of their DVRs?
If the PTC really cared about kids, they’d spend as much time coaching parents on how new technologies can help them monitor their kids’ viewing as they do trying to censor networks.
Instead, the PTC regularly twists the technicalities of decades-old obscenity regulations to force networks to spend millions defending programming that is very clearly not obscene. And in recent years, the organization has even started challenging cable, doing all it can to defame shows with even an ounce of edge.
PTC founder L. Brent Bozell last month launched a verbal broadside against FX and its president, John Landgraf, because Mr. Bozell thought the network’s “Sons of Anarchy” represented the “gruesome unfolding of a pervert’s mind onto a national television screen.” He denounced FX for being more concerned about artistic vision than the “prospect of a 10-year-old boy finding a terrifying castration scene as he’s flipping channels in his home.”
Personally, I’d be more troubled by the irresponsibility of the parents of any 10-year-old who would allow their son to be channel surfing, unattended, at 10 o’clock at night.
There’s a reason Mr. Bozell and the folks at the PTC have broadened their attacks beyond broadcasters. They want Congress to require cable operators to offer channels on an a la carte basis. Their argument: Consumers shouldn’t have to subsidize “filth” on channels they don’t like.
The problem, of course, is that a la carte would mean the death of numerous cable channels, and a severe restriction in programming budgets for those that survived. There would be far less choice for consumers, and far fewer outlets producing cutting-edge fare such as “Sons of Anarchy.”
It’s not cable choice the PTC and its allies want. It’s not even to shield kids from smut.
It’s control of what you get to watch.

43 Comments

  1. Bravo Joe! It’s about time someone took these pikers to task. They have no appreciation for the medium of television and their senseless crusades are tedious and meaningless. Thanks for discussing.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Adalian for a great column. What they think works in China and North Korea doesn’t work here. If the PTC doesn’t like it (and they don’t), they should move to those countries.

  3. Thanks. I’ve been pouncing on the PTC whenever I get the chance.
    http://iamatvjunkie.typepad.com/i_am_a_tv_junkie_a_blog_f/parents_television_council/
    They are apparently too weak from writing letters that they can’t turn off their TVs, or even change the channel.

  4. Thanks so much for writing a column that can be reproduced verbatim in fund raising letters for the PTC that clearly show the contempt Hollywood and the media have for those who have any concern for what is spewing forth from the Government-owned airwaves.
    FX’s “10 PM” airtime also becomes “7 PM” on the West Coast if one has satellite and thus is seeing FX’s East Coast feed. But I bet parents should stop their children from possibly channel surfing at 7:00 PM as well.
    As for Survivor, there’s simply no excuse for it; the video was taped, edited and prepared for broadcast. This isn’t an inadvertent remark made during an awards show, it should have been caught at any of several points along the edit chain. Instead it was almost certainly a “let’s see if we can get away with this!” move.

  5. Bill,
    Thanks for the comment. But I don’t get two things:
    1. You say the Survivor snafu was “almost certainly” a case of CBS trying to see if they could get away with it. Why do you think that? Did CBS air ads saying, “Watch Survivor– if you’ve got HD, and a DVR, you’ll get to see a tiny flash of a penis!”? What possible benefit could CBS accrue by purposely airing this? Have you watched the show? Almost every episode contains a whole bunch of pixilation. Humans make mistakes.
    2. As for FX: Fair point about the east coast feed. But by your logic, adult shows should only be available after 1 a.m. Even if on cable or satellite. Even if you pay for it. Maybe parents who are really concerned about their kids’ welfare should just not bring cable TV into their house. Or let them have a TV set in their bedroom. And maybe make a rule that TV should only be watched as a family.
    Or, we could go with the PTC’s solution: Big government telling Americans what they can and can’t watch.

  6. I’m really weary of the “turn it off if you don’t like it” argument.
    It’s like arguing, yeah, someone is poisoning the water supply, but, hey, if you don’t like it, don’t drink it, buy bottled water!
    Poisoning the culture, lower the standards little by little, slowly creating a greater threshold for what most people will say is “a big deal” is much like poisoning water very slowly. Your kids grow up thinking a tattoo on the arm is no big deal, so they get one on their face to shock you. They start using words because they now appear on t-shirts and bumper stickers, and there’s no refuge from smut.
    I remember when porno was shameful. Now it’s mainstream, something Joey and Chandler watch, so how bad can it be? Meanwhile, smut ruins marriage and religion. And this is how our grandparents hoped we turn out?
    I can turn off my own set, but if “anything goes” then my kids will see the raunchy stuff, even if they see it at their friends’ house.
    But, then, you libertarians don’t have any kids, or shouldn’t. Or you wouldn’t be so stinkin’ glib about what parents “should” do.

  7. Your argument against “A la carte” programming is weak. Frankly I don’t care if we lose a number of cable channels. In fact, I’d love it. Most cable channels are filled with reruns and informercials. I’d rather have a dozen choices with interesting programming than eighty channels of pablum.
    As for the quality, believe me, if ten networks were competing for your eyes, they’d deliver quality or go out of business.
    Let’s stop subsidizing junk, indecent or not.

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