Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Friday, March 3, 2006
In the study, entitled "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: A Content Analysis of Children's Television," the Parents Television Council (PTC) examined 443.5 hours of entertainment for youngsters 5 to 10 years of age.
The results of the PTC's first examination of children's shows were "frankly staggering," according to the Center's founder and president, L. Brent Bozell.
"Parents often take it for granted that children's programs are by definition child-friendly," said Bozell, who is also president of the Media Research Center and founder of Cybercast News Service. "Young children are especially impressionable, and they learn social norms and behaviors as readily from television as from their peers or parents."
The new report "documents that 'children's television' is no safe haven for children, and parents must be extremely vigilant as to what their children are watching, perhaps more so in this arena than in any other," he added.
The PTC focused its analysis on after-school and Saturday morning shows during a three-week period in the summer of 2005 on four broadcast networks -- ABC, Fox, NBC and the WB -- and four cable channels -- ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.
The study, which did not include children's educational programming, found a total of 3,488 incidents of violence, for an average of 7.86 instances per hour, Bozell said.
Even when the innocent "cartoony" violence -- such as an anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote's head -- was removed, there were still 2,794 instances of violence, an average of 6.30 instances per hour, he stated.
"To put this figure in perspective, consider that in 2002, the six broadcast networks combined averaged only 4.71 instances of violence per hour of prime-time programming," Bozell said. "Thus, more violence is aimed directly at young children than at adults on television today.
"Violence in cartoons, of course, is nothing new," he stated. "What has changed is that violence today is ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases, frighteningly realistic."
In addition, the report found 858 incidents of verbal aggression, an average of 1.93 instances per hour; 662 incidents of disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic attitudes and behaviors, an average of 1.49 instances per hour; 275 incidents of sexual content, an average of 0.62 instances per hour; and 250 incidents of offensive language, an average of 0.56 instances per hour.
Although the Cartoon Network had the highest total of violent incidents, the ABC Family Channel had the most per program, with 318 instances (only 11 of which could be considered "cartoon" violence), an average of 10.96 violent incidents per episode.
On the other hand, the Disney Channel aired the least amount of violent children's programming, with 0.95 incidents per episode.
The WB had the highest levels of "offensive language, verbal abuse, sexual innuendo and offensive/excretory references," while Fox had the lowest amount of this content.
"One of the more disturbing trends in this study was the amount of adult-oriented subtext that was laced throughout both the animated and live-action programs," Bozell added. "Sadly, producers must think that if they can entertain parents with double entendres and innuendo, the parents will encourage the children to watch."
These trends signify that "parents can no longer be confident that their children will not have access to dark violence, sexual innuendo or offensive language on entertainment programming targeted toward children," he said.
However, Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, which describes itself as "a broad-based coalition that opposes government control of TV programming and promotes the use of tools like content ratings and parental controls," was critical of the report, as well as the group that produced it.
"This group has a history of making sensational claims in order to push government control of content," Dyke told Cybercast News Service in an email statement.
"Parents relying on ubiquitous and user-friendly technology, ratings information and their own good judgment to manage TV is (sic) the best approach, not increased government control, regardless of whether the program is Yosemite Sam, the Road Runner or a scene from a show clearly intended for adults," Dyke added.
Bozell acknowledged that there "is probably not a deliberate effort to undermine the social fabric of young children, but this thoughtlessness still produces the same end result.
"The downward spiral of children's television must stop," he stated. "Broadcast and cable networks must be held accountable for allowing such inappropriate content to corrupt our children. We must also hold advertisers responsible for underwriting these messages."
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