Guest Commentary: Parents Want Industry to Act Responsibly

Oct 26, 2008  •  Post A Comment

I am partly surprised at the vicious attack against the Parents Television Council by Josef Adalian in his recent column (“PTC Uses Kids as Human Shields,” TelevisionWeek, Oct. 13). Television industry advocates often do not appreciate the views of an educational organization like the PTC, but Mr. Adalian has attacked millions of parents who are extremely concerned about the state of television.
Not only that, Mr. Adalian compromised journalistic standards by not naming even one network source. Furthermore, he attacked the PTC without bothering to ask us for comment.
The PTC is a 1.3 million-member nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. The organization produces critical research that is provided free of charge to parents so that they can make informed entertainment choices for their own families. The majority of our work and financial resources goes toward educating parents.
The fact remains that parents are the first line of defense when it comes to what their children can watch on television. The problem is that expletives, graphic sexual content and extreme violence air on shows deemed appropriate and appropriately rated for children.
The broadcast industry denies responsibility for the content it airs every single time, saying it is parents’ sole responsibility to protect their children. This assertion is much like pumping toxic waste into a town’s river while maintaining that parents are responsible for protecting the health of their own children.
The industry tells us to turn off the TV or use the V-chip. Because of television’s pervasiveness and persuasiveness, opting out is an entirely inadequate response.
Research has consistently proven that shows are mis-rated. Consider that a recent episode of CBS’ “Big Brother 10” included a plethora of bleeped “F-words.” Given the frequency and severity, the show should have been rated at least TV-14 L [for language], but it lacked a program rating altogether. The networks rate their own shows and are financially motivated to have lower ratings. Parents cannot rely on the V-chip if the ratings are inaccurate. It’s simple: The technology that the broadcast industry tells us to rely on does not work.
This is why we provide education. When CBS aired “Swingtown,” we warned parents about its premise since it aired as early as 9 p.m. in the Central/Mountain time zones. The show contained group sex scenes, discussions of “open marriage” and depictions of recreational drug use.
Certainly such content would be objectionable to many, but lest there be any confusion, we believe adults are free to watch this type of programming. However, when it airs on the public airwaves during hours children are likely to be in the viewing audience, every parent has a right to be concerned and to raise his or her voice.
Parental voices have helped propel the upcoming Supreme Court review of the profanity case (FCC vs. Fox) in which Fox was warned by the FCC that future airings of the “F-word” and “S-word” would likely violate indecency standards. It bears mentioning that the FCC did not fine the network for the profanity, but that didn’t keep the industry from attacking the underpinnings of broadcast decency law.
Instead of making an effort to abide by the law, Fox and the other TV networks have set out on a course to overturn the law.
Ironically, News Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin said in a speech last week, “Some of the content we are defending is not particularly tasteful: the expletives, the brief nudity, the carefully placed whipped cream and, of course, the pixels.” There was not a hint of contrition for his headlong trajectory into the abyss of ever-increasing levels of graphic material. Instead, Chernin offered an absurd pseudo-patriotic defense of his company’s unmitigated airing of admittedly offensive and tasteless material. Never mind the fact that the Supreme Court has already validated the constitutionality of the broadcast decency law and Chernin is free to air such material after 10 p.m.
Parents also have valid reasons for not wanting to subsidize cable networks like FX or MTV with their cable bills—yet the media companies will not allow consumers to choose and pay for only those networks they want, despite calls from Consumers Union and major industry players like Dish Network and Cablevision. Consumers and families agree: Why should they be forced to pay for networks they don’t want, don’t watch and may even find offensive or harmful, just to gain access to the quality cable programming?
Advertisers pour billions of dollars into commercials because of the proven power that ads have to influence consumer attitudes and behavior. If the networks accept money on that premise, it is unreasonable and hypocritical for them to assert that the rest of the programming, which is what the public is actually viewing by choice, has no influence.
Television impacts and influences children, whether directly or indirectly, and the industry must take responsibility.
Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council.


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