Parents Television Council: Shocking Results of New Study on TV Content Ratings

Posted on October 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Copyright Stylus 2014
It isn’t shocking to learn that television has become less and less child-friendly over the years. Anyone who has ever turned on a set knows that. What is shocking is how little has been done to give parents the information they need to protect their children from what they don’t want them to see. As my dad, who has been fighting for better television, especially for children, since he was Chairman of the FCC 1961-63 says, we spend a lot of time making sure our children know not to talk to strange and possibly dangerous people and yet we invite strange and dangerous content into our living rooms, kitchens, and, increasingly, unsupervised bedrooms, when we let them watch television. His book, Abandoned in the Wasteland, documented this in detail.

Today, the Parents Television Council has released a new report called A Decade of Deceit with some very disturbing findings that every parent should think about carefully. For example:

We found that on shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period. There was also a more than twice as much violence on shows rated TV-14 in the 2017-18 television season than in the 2007-08 season, both in per-episode averages and in absolute terms.

There were no G-rated programs on Fox, CW, or ABC (even though ABC is owned by Disney) in any of the “sweeps” periods, in either 2007-2008 or 2017-2018. The overall number of G-rated shows in 2017-2018 was almost identical to that a decade earlier: five or fewer. Some “sweeps” periods contained no G-rated programming at all.

Networks are packing substantially more profanity and violence into youth-rated shows than they did a decade ago; but that increase in adult-themed content has not affected the age-based ratings the networks apply. On shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period.

Almost 90% said that they have never used the V-chip or parental controls to block programs, and an incredible 92% couldn’t explain what the industry’s D, L, S and V content descriptors stand for. This clearly demonstrates that parents WANT an effective and trustworthy content ratings system…but they don’t trust and don’t understand the one that exists now – and has existed for over 20 years. A 2014 poll in Costco Connection Magazine found an astonishing 97% of readers agreed that we should rethink the rating system for television and film. In fact, the only public opinion polls that show support for or satisfaction with the existing ratings system are those paid for by the industry.

Most astonishing is that there have been no changes to the rating system — in which the television network employees rate their own shows with no real oversight by those with expertise in child development — has not changed at all in 20 years, despite the fact that this period has had significant changes in media, technology, and culture.

The report concludes:

In a letter to the PTC dated June 3, 2019 – and which was sent just a few weeks after the FCC delivered its report to Congress – Michael Powell, President & CEO of the NCTA (The Internet and Television Association) and current chairman of the TVOMB stated, “The Monitoring Board shares your goal of ensuring that the TV ratings system remains a source of accurate and helpful information, and we are deeply committed to continuing to provide parents with the necessary resources to enable them to make informed choices about TV viewing in their homes.”

It sounds good; but this assertion is simply not true. Despite two decades of parental concerns about the TV content ratings system, the entertainment industry has consistently defied public calls for reform. There have been promises of improvement, but no improvement, as this report demonstrates.

We strongly support the PTC’s recommendations:

Ratings Accuracy
A symposium of pediatricians, children’s mental health experts, and child/family advocates should be convened to review the definitions of each age-based content rating (TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-14, et cetera) in order to ensure that each rating category definition accurately and effectively reflects contemporary knowledge. International best practices should be considered and incorporated into this review.

Because the entertainment industry stands to benefit financially when content is inaccurately rated for younger audiences, to avoid any potential conflict of interest, TVOMB industry members should be permitted to offer their opinion, but not to alter the outcome of this independent review of the rating definitions and their application.

Accessibility
Every exhibitor and distributor should commit to airing a minimum number of public service announcements about the content ratings system. Most parents have never heard of TVOMB, and most have no idea it is their obligation to complain to TVOMB about a rating that they may find to be inaccurate.

Public service announcements about the TV content ratings system should provide contact information and urge parents to communicate with TVOMB regarding any questions or concerns they might have. The mere existence of a TVOMB website and phone number provides absolutely zero value without public awareness.

Every effort should be made by TVOMB to bring more digital distribution platforms to the table. This would include the major independent players in the digital entertainment arena (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, et cetera) as well as those that are owned or controlled by TVOMB members (CBS All Access, Disney+, Pluto TV, and others).

Transparency
TVOMB should expand its member composition to create a more balanced weighting of industry, health experts and parental groups.

Entertainment industry “front groups” which currently hold a number of the family advocate seats should be removed.
Formal terms, and term limits, should be applied to Board members, to ensure that fresh perspectives are represented.
Board member qualifications should be provided to the public.

Meetings should be regularly scheduled and announced to the public.

Meetings should be open to the public and to the press.

How to file a complaint about a program’s rating, and the TVOMB’s subsequent adjudication process, should be clearly explained.

It is time for the TV content ratings system to reflect the realities of today’s entertainment media technologies and cultural landscape. Bold, positive and comprehensive improvements to a 22-year old system are needed to bring it into the 21st century.

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Parenting Television

Movie-Altering Company VidAngel Ordered to Pay Studios $62 Million

Posted on June 24, 2019 at 7:59 am

Parents often ask for “airplane versions” of movies, edited to be more family friendly. Studios, who authorize edited versions for international release and broadcast television, don’t like it when the editing is done by others. After some lawsuits, Congress passed a law to make it clear that independent companies have the right to make these edits. It authorizes private companies to edit out material.

But technology has a way of moving faster than the law, and it was one thing when parents would buy a video or DVD and then authorize an independent firm to alter it, but another when it comes to streaming. A judge found that their streaming service was a violation of the studio’s copyrights. A jury has now awarded $62 million to Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers, and the studios have filed a motion with the court to prevent VidAngel from “squandering assets” to make sure they will pay it.

This is a complicated issue. On the one hand, the creators of content are entitled to copyright protection. On the other hand, once you buy a movie, they do not have the right to make you watch every minute of it. So why not give you the option of relying on an outside firm to skip the parts you don’t want to see or hear? I agree that the streaming option they offered, which was more like a rental than a purchase, was not consistent with the copyright exemption in the law. I am particularly concerned with the way this case has been discussed in the right-wing media, as, for example, this headline from the ultra-right Federalist, co-founded by Meghan McCain’s husband Ben Domenech, and famous for refusing to be transparent about its funding: “Hollywood Punishes VidAngel For Cleaning Up Their Smut.” It’s actually the law which is punishing VidAngel for infringing on copyright-protected creative work. I’m pretty sure The Federalist would not want VidAngel to sell edited copies of their newsletter or radio show. And it would not want the government to tell a business like a movie studio that a PG-13 movie is too “smutty.”

This judgment, if upheld, may put VidAngel out of business. Or, Congress can amend the law again to clarify what they can legally do. It was an imperfect solution at best, and whatever happens, we can be sure that technology will overtake any attempt at a solution and parents will always need to be vigilant.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Keeping Halloween for Kids Fun-Scary, Not Scary-Scary

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 7:35 am

My friends at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists share their thoughts on making sure that children see movies that are fun-scary, not scary-scary at Halloween — and how to help them if they do get too scared. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m always sorry when kids are upset by what they see, especially when they’re so upset that they tear up or their voices shake when they talk about it years later. But I also recognize that no matter how careful parents are or how sheltered children are, whatever movie they see at exactly the moment when they’re first able to understand the implications of scariness in a deeper way will always be considered especially upsetting. What that means is that everyone will be terrified at some point by a movie. Even adults, no matter how old, just about always have an immediate answer when you ask what movie scared them the most.

A concerned mother once told me that her 2-year-old’s favorite movie was The Sound of Music, and she wanted to see it every day, but ‘I don’t want her to be scared by the Nazis.’ I told her that a 2-year-old has no ability to understand what Nazis are or even that the movie is more than a series of scenes of people singing and cautioned her that in a few years, the child would suddenly see the movie in a different way as she reached a more mature developmental stage, and then she might find it scary.

When my own son was about 11, he told me he wanted to see more scary movies. I told him, ‘Lucky for you, you have a mother who’s an expert on movies, so we’ll explore all the different kinds of scary — jump out at you, suspense, gore, etc. And so we did, and we talked about what made something scary and how the filmmakers understood how audiences react and played into or didn’t play into our vulnerabilities and expectations.

So what I take away from all this is that parents need to know their children and listen to them about what kind of scares they’re ready for and able to enjoy, but generally I recommend erring on the side of being protective.” Parents need to understand, though, that being scared is a part of growing up and learning how to deal with being scared is an essential life skill. Parents should be cautious about exposing children to scary material, they should respect a child’s own decision that something is too scary, and they should teach children what can help when they feel scared. “What will you do if it gets scary? Will you get into my lap, or turn it off?” If they feel that they have power over whatever scares them, it’s much less scary.

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Parenting

Teen Views on Social Media

Posted on September 12, 2018 at 9:37 pm

Copyright 2018 Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media has released a new study about teenagers and social media.  The full report has suggested responses for parents to the findings to give teens support and guidance.  Some of the highlights:

They can’t stop. They won’t stop. Seventy percent of teens use social media more than once a day (compared to 34 percent in 2012). Interestingly, most teens think technology companies manipulate users to spend more time on their devices. Many of them also think that social media distracts them and and their friends.

Managing devices is hit or miss. Many turn off, silence, or put away their phones at key times such as when going to sleep, having meals with people, visiting family, or doing homework. But many others do not: A significant number of teens say they “hardly ever” or “never” silence or put away their devices.

Snapchat and Instagram are where it’s at. In 2012 Facebook utterly dominated social networking use among teens. Today, only 15 percent say it’s their main site (when one 16-year-old girl was asked in a focus group who she communicates with on Facebook, she replied, “My grandparents”).

Less talking, more texting. In 2012, about half of all teens still said their favorite way to communicate with friends was in person; today less than a third say so. But more than half of all teens say that social media takes them away from personal relationships and distracts them from paying attention to the people they’re with.

Copyright 2018 Common Sense Media

 

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Parenting Teenagers Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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