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

FCC: It’s Time to Look at the TV Rating System!

Posted on May 9, 2016 at 11:19 pm

The television ratings system has failed badly. It is secret, inconsistent, and completely out of touch with current technology. There is no accountability or oversight and no way to challenge the decisions made by insiders. I am proud to join with 28 organizations devoted to protecting children and media literacy in calling for a review by the FCC.

The content ratings system as currently constituted is deeply flawed because the power to assign program content ratings was assigned to the same networks where the content originates. This has created an inherent and tremendous conflict of interest: It is to a network’s advantage to mis-rate its programming for a younger audience so as to gain a larger viewing audience; and a majority of corporate advertisers choose not to advertise on television programming that is rated for Mature Audiences Only. Unlike motion pictures and video games, there is no independent evaluation of the age-based rating system for television.
An incorrect content rating renders the V-chip worthless. If a parent programs their television’s V-chip to block programs rated as appropriate for “Mature Audiences Only,” their child will still be exposed to graphic and explicit material. Whether accidental or intentional, an informal practice has developed whereby broadcast networks never rate any of their programming “mature only,” no matter how graphic, explicit or inappropriate its content may be for children. As a result, extreme, graphic content is rated appropriate for 14-year-old children; and other programs with adult content are even rated PG.

The TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) has enabled and sheltered this flawed content ratings system, rather than following its Congressional and FCC mandate to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the system:

TVOMB is not accountable to anyone outside its own membership, nor is it transparent to the parents it supposedly serves. Most Americans don’t even know TVOMB exists. They don’t know that TVOMB is in charge of the ratings system, or how to contact its members.

Parents have never been told the names of those who sit on TVOMB; why they are qualified to sit on TVOMB; how they are appointed; when or where TVOMB meets; how they determine what content ratings TV programs ought to have; or how they respond to complaints from parents and other citizens.

The public is not allowed to attend TVOMB meetings. Representatives from the FCC are not allowed to attend meetings. Members of the press are not allowed to attend meetings. There is no transparency beyond the TVOMB members.

TVOMB is composed of a chairman and 23 members, including six members each from the broadcast television industry, the cable industry, and the program production community. There are only five non-industry seats on a board of 23, despite the board’s express purpose being to serve the needs of parents; and as of this writing, not all five of the non-industry seats are filled. Of those five non-industry seats on TVOMB, all are appointed by the TVOMB chairman (an industry member).

In other words, the body charged with oversight of the television content ratings system is comprised of those whom it is supposed to be monitoring. Under the current system, the same people who create TV content then rate the content they’ve created, and also run the board that oversees the rating process. They also produce an occasional public opinion survey that validates the current system.

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Commentary Parenting

Do the GQ ‘Glee’ Photos Go Too Far?

Posted on October 21, 2010 at 8:26 am

Katie Couric and the Parents Television Council are objecting to a sexy photo spread of “Glee” cast members in GQ Magazine. While Finn (Cory Monteith) is fully clothed, his cast mates Rachel (Lea Michelle) and Quinn (Diana Agron) (both 24 years old but playing teenage high schoolers in the show) are in their underwear and posing very provocatively.

The PTC says “It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on ‘Glee’ in this way. It borders on pedophilia.” GQ responded, “As often happens in Hollywood, these ‘kids’ are in their twenties. Cory Montieth’s almost 30! I think they’re old enough to do what they want.” NPR’s Monkey See blog also objected to the sexy “Glee” photos, because of the passive, little-girl signifiers of the props and poses.

“Glee” is not intended for children. It has a good deal of edgy material with frequent sexual references and situations. Agron plays a character who, despite membership in the school chastity club, had a baby last year. A teen boy has sex with older women. In another episode three characters decide to lose their virginity, though not all of them went through with it. The most recent episode showed two teen girl cheerleaders making out with each other.

At least three or four times a year there is a headline about some former child star who wants to show she is all grown up with a sexy photo shoot or music video. A new video from Miley Cyrus, formerly the squeaky clean Hannah Montana, has her posing blindfolded on a bed and giving lap dances. The only thing harder to control than a teenager is a teenager in show business. Or a publication trying to get headlines.

How should parents respond? First, by listening. Young fans of performers like Miley Cyrus may be distressed by this kind of behavior. Parents should use this as an opportunity to say that sometimes people, especially teenagers, make foolish choices, and we hope they learn from their mistakes — and that we do, too. If they feel strongly about it, help them write a letter to the performer, or post something on a fan site expressing their views. Teenage Gleeks may be willing to talk about why it is that the male performer gets to keep his clothes on, why the female stars pose in their underwear in public settings, and how props like a lollipop are used transgressively to make the images evoke both childhood and adult sexuality.

Let me know what your family thinks about this issue, either here or at moviemom@moviemom.com.

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