A new study has a message for the many families who have said television content has grown coarser with each passing year: You’re right.
The study by the watchdog group Parents Television Council found a 28 percent increase in violence and a 44 percent increase in profanity over the past decade in shows rated TV-PG. It’s part of what the PTC calls “content creep” – that is, an increase in offensive content within a given rating compared to similarly rated programs a decade ago.
The study, released Tuesday, calls on Congress to conduct a bipartisan fact-finding hearing with pediatricians, children’s mental health experts, and child/family advocates on the ratings system.
“The status quo isn't working,” Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said during a conference call with reporters. “The self-governing solution the TV industry proposed to Congress and the FCC more than 20 years ago isn't really self-governing. It's self-serving.”
TV-PG programming, according to the official TV industry definition, is programming that parents may find “unsuitable for younger children.” This means (according to the definition) it’s suitable for older children, tweens and teens.
One problem, the study said, is that television networks rate their own programs – and thus have an incentive not to give programs a harsher rating.
“If parents are actively monitoring the content their children are consuming and something is rated for mature audiences, then an informed and responsible parent would make sure their children are not watching that show,” Winter told reporters. “They would use technology to block it, and, therefore, the overall ratings would go down, and the TV network would make less money.”
Additionally, Winter said, some companies have a policy of not advertising on TV programs rated for mature audiences.
The networks have “an absolute financial conflict of interest,” in rating programs, he said.
Profanity on TV-PG programs during the 2017-18 television season included such words as a--, d--n, a--hole, b--ch, b---ard and d--k, the report said, as well as bleeped f-words
But it’s not just TV-PG shows that are growing coarser. Programs rated TV-14 contain an average of 84 percent more violence per episode than did TV-14 shows a decade ago.
The study also calls on the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) – which provides oversight to the ratings system – to be reconstituted to “create a more balanced weighting of industry, health experts and parental groups.”
Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, agreed that reform is needed.
“All we need to do is ask anyone – including the TV executives who produce the content – ‘Do you want your children watching this?’ … We all agree there should be a rating system,” Nance said during the conference call with reporters. “Does anybody think that this works effectively? Does anybody think that anybody is overseeing it, to update it as needed? No one thinks that.”
Nell Minow, founder of MovieMom.com, also supported the study’s findings.
“The issue here is not censorship,” Minow told reporters. “We're not telling anybody what's a good show or a bad show. What we're trying to avoid is bad surprises. What we don't want is for parents to turn on the television thinking that what is coming into their home ... [is OK] and then finding out that it’s something else instead.”
The study compared programming during the sweeps periods of 2017-18 to the sweeps periods of the 2007-08 season.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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