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Parents Television Council - Because Our Children Are Watching

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is the PTC's mission?

The PTC's primary mission is to promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment industry in answer to America's demand for positive, family-oriented television programming. The PTC does this by fostering changes in TV programming to make the early hours of prime time family-friendly and suitable for viewers of all ages.

Because of the pervasive and powerful influence of television, the PTC seeks to discourage the increasingly graphic sexual themes and dialogue, depictions of gratuitous violence, and profane/obscene language that have crowded out family viewing options. The PTC concentrates on broadcast television, which uses the public airwaves to enter every home with a television set, and expanded basic cable, which millions of households rely on for their TV programming.

The PTC also assists parents in exercising responsibility for their children's viewing habits with the Family Guide to Prime Time Television. The Guide offers a traffic-light ratings system with red-, yellow-, and green-light ratings indicating the amount of sex, foul language and violence in each series. The ratings system is accompanied by clear descriptions of every prime time show, enabling parents to make educated decisions about the programs they and their families wish to view.

The PTC has customarily focused on broadcast television programs -- particularly during prime time, and especially during the "Family Hour" (the earliest hour of network television each evening). However, because of the influences late-night programming and cable can exert on the medium as a whole, the PTC does monitor shows airing in other time slots, and on expanded basic cable channels.

Parents often complain that when objectionable programming comes into the home via the widely accessible venues of broadcast television and expanded basic cable, it is often virtually unavoidable and puts a tremendous burden on them to monitor their children's viewing 24/7 especially now when family programming is scarce.

What can I do to help bring responsibility back to the entertainment industry?

By organizing and communicating effectively, you can help to change television. The PTC is a citizen organization, an army of concerned Americans. We provide information about the content of prime time programs and contact information about sponsors so members know what's on television, and can communicate effectively with the corporations that sponsor programs. The success of the PTC depends on members using the information and making the effort to contact corporations that sponsor offensive programming. Corporations care about their image and want their advertising to connect positively, not negatively, with consumers. You can also make the FCC and the FTC uphold laws by filing complaints on broadcast content that you find to be indecent and thus against the law and by reporting it when companies market violence to children. Go to our Take Action page to find out how you can make a difference starting today.

Do my letters and phone calls to corporations make a difference?

Yes! The PTC has seen corporations stop advertising on offensive programming, and has effected changes in some of the worst programming, primarily because of the phone calls, e-mails, and letters from our members. Keep up the good work! Corporations do listen to you, and the networks listen to the corporations they depend on for advertising dollars. The networks produce programming primarily with a view to what will bring in the most ad dollars. So, please contact those corporations we list as sponsors of offensive programming and let them know of your dissatisfaction with their advertising practices.

Aren't you violating First Amendment freedoms by censoring TV shows?

"Not all forms of censorship are illegal. When private individuals agitate to eliminate TV programs they dislike, or threaten to boycott the companies that support those programs with advertising dollars, .... their actions are perfectly legal; in fact, their protests are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech." - From the National Coalition Against Censorship Website http://www.ncac.org/about/faq.html

The PTC does not censor. The First Amendment was instituted to guarantee precisely the type of activities pursued by the PTC: free speech and disseminating information.

Shows airing on broadcast television use the public airwaves. Because broadcast channels are available free over the air, it is presumed that children of any age can access their programming, and during prime time, it is presumed that they are doing so. According to the Federal Communications Act of 1934, which still sets the guidelines for the use of this public property, programming must be in the "public interest," i.e., serve a common publicly recognized good. It has never been supposed by the Supreme Court that broadcasters have an absolute right to air whatever they wish with no responsibility to the public interest.

The First Amendment begins: Congress shall make no law… and is supposed to limit the powers of the federal government only. The Parents Television Council is not a federal entity or a legislative body. It has neither the power to forbid programming nor the desire for the government to ban legal programming. Instead, the PTC operates by providing members and advertisers with information about the content of programs. Where prime time programming contains significant amounts of material unsuitable for children in a timeslot and venue where children presumably have access to that material, the PTC asks advertisers to reconsider their sponsorship of the program.

The activities of the PTC are actually a classic case of the First Amendment at work. The PTC is an organization of over a million private citizens who have organized to exercise our right to speak out about what we view as a significant problem. We wish to raise the issue of the potential abuse of broadcasting privileges, hold advertisers accountable for the programming they sponsor, and point out the dramatic changes in television content. We address issues through providing information and educating viewers, sponsors, and networks, not through law or force, and have the right to express the opinions shared by our members. By the same token, advertisers also have the right to place their ads as they see fit, with the knowledge that they may be offending a significant number of viewers.

The NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and other groups often attempt to manipulate or alter television portrayals of, or references to, members of their constituencies. Most people do not consider these efforts censorship. Instead, such efforts are recognized as a legitimate exercise of the right to free speech. The PTC is doing virtually the same thing by raising our concerns about programming that we and our members believe is harmful.

Shouldn't overseeing children's television viewing choices be the responsibility of parents, not that of the Parents Television Council?

The PTC agrees that the primary responsibility for a child's viewing habits rests with his parents, which is why we try to assist them by providing them with both information and a vehicle to effectively communicate their concerns to advertisers.

The fact that parents are ultimately responsible for their children's upbringing does not free the entertainment industry from taking responsibility for their product. The assertion that the sole responsibility lies with parents is a self-justifying claim usually made by people who wish to evade accountability. It is much like pumping sewage into a town's river, while maintaining that parents are responsible for protecting the health of their own children. Parental responsibility is the beginning, not the end, of the story. The next question is, to what extent do those who use public resources like the airwaves have a responsibility as well?

The default setting for broadcast television used to be family-oriented, while those desiring edgier, more explicit fare were free to seek it out. Today's prime time television programming has become almost uniformly unsuitable for families, and often directly hostile to their values, making it very difficult for parents to shield their children and seek out alternative entertainment.

If you don't like something on television, why don't you just change the channel?

Television is the most public and powerful means of mass communication. It drives changes in social customs, speech, and attitudes, especially among youth. Because of its pervasiveness and persuasiveness, opting out is an entirely inadequate response to the dramatic rise in the amount of televised graphic sex, obscene and profane language, and gratuitous violence found on television today. These depictions affect everyone, including our children's classmates and friends. Vulgar television means a more vulgar society; sex-saturated television means sexualized children stripped of their innocence; violent television results in desensitization to violence.

In addition, when the networks, which traditionally have been the primary source for family entertainment, begin producing raunchy and violent shows, parents are left with few places to turn for family viewing. By remaining silent, PTC members would be giving their consent to these changes and ceding their television sets to lowest-common- denominator programming. As the envelope continues to be pushed even further, the chances of avoiding such material become increasingly limited.

Merely changing the channel is essentially to accept what is on that channel, and admit powerlessness to change what is on one's own television. To be forced to change the channel is to accept the loss of additional stations to unhealthy content and to expect similar material to one day appear on the next channel.

"You can put your TV in the garage, avoid movies altogether, and use earplugs to spare your hearing from the sounds of hip-hop or heavy metal, but these forms of entertainment will still change your life through their influence on everyone else in society. Though you may struggle to protect your own kids from music that encourages violence or drugs or irresponsible sex, you can't possibly protect them from all the other kids in your community who have received full exposure." - Michael Medved taken from The Rock & Roll Rebellion by Mark Joseph.

Why is the PTC worried about the make-believe sex and violence on prime time, since it has no influence on real-life behavior or attitudes?

Advertisers pour billions of dollars annually into commercials, because of the proven power of 30-second ad spots to influence consumer attitudes and behavior. If the networks accept the money on that premise, it is unreasonable and hypocritical for them to then assert that the rest of the programming, which is what the public is actually viewing by choice, has no influence.

To argue this point, defenders of offensive entertainment often set up a straw man to knock down -- the image of an otherwise perfectly normal and well-adjusted person watching a program and turning into a killer. No one is suggesting that it works that way, nor does the PTC believe that people are not responsible for their own actions. That again begs the question of what responsibility the entertainment industry bears for its own product.

There are numerous instances where the media clearly does influence behavior.  Another way is through desensitization. A person who regularly views positive portrayals of adultery and fornication or heroes using violence is less apt to view those behaviors as undesirable or abnormal. Finally, television can influence through its focus on extreme and dangerous behavior, both in news and entertainment. The Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, for instance, were apparently motivated, at least in part, by the prospect of being the subjects of a television movie.

Most of what appears on television is make-believe, but nevertheless has profound effects, as hundreds of studies on the influence of television have shown. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have both demonstrated television's undeniable influence, especially on children. Some complaints the PTC receives from critics amply illustrate this very point. Their letters are often laced with the jargon, phrases, and attitudes of their professed television heroes, and viewers sometimes credit television characters or programs as having a profound influence on their lives.

Isn't the PTC acting as a self-appointed moral guardian by trying to make viewing decisions for adults?

The PTC does not seek to prevent those adults who wish to view "edgy" programming from doing so. Our concern relates to the time and the venue in which such programming is broadcast. A show permeated with continuous acts of savage assault with deadly weapons, explicit sexual scenes and themes, or punctuated with obscene or profane language, whether the characters are scripted or not, may be suitable for pay-per-view, but it does not have a place on prime time broadcast television, particularly during the family hour. Because broadcast television and expanded basic cable are so widely available, they are supposed to maintain standards that make them suitable for all ages.

How does the PTC conduct its research?

The PTC has more than 95,000 hours of entertainment programming in its custom-designed Entertainment Tracking System (ETS). The ETS is the only database of its kind in the world, and the PTC uses it to produce unique research and publications focusing on a variety topics relating to the content of prime time television -- including in-depth analyses of the "family hour" and the television ratings system. This same database provides the background information necessary to produce our Family Guide to Prime Time Television.

Time and again we hear from people asking, "How do you do it? How can you monitor every prime time network television show between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.?"  With an arsenal of VCRs, televisions, a full-time team of entertainment analysts, and a massive online database we are able to build a database full of this unique research.

Each evening, the PTC records every prime-time program on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, ITV, UPN, and the WB, as well as original programming on expanded basic cable.   The following day, the PTC's team of entertainment analysts watch and transcribe every offensive word, sexual innuendo, and describe sexual activity and violence in detail. The information from the analysts is then fed into ETS. The staff uses the information to compile e-mail reports, monthly newsletters, and in-depth studies.  The researchers also use intelligence from ETS to produce frequent press releases and alerts exposing TV's gratuitous sex and graphic violence, and to educate sponsors about program content.

Our research and information are truly one-of-a-kind. Many in the entertainment industry, including advertising executives, use this info which is found online at the PTC's website - www.parentstv.org.

The PTC also regularly provides tapes of broadcasts to the Federal Communications Commission since most broadcasters don't archive their broadcasts. A tape of the broadcast is needed by the FCC in order to determine if the broadcast broke indecency or obscenity laws.

You gave my favorite show a red traffic light and/or put it on your yearly best/worst list, does that mean you don't like it?

No, we do not make judgments about a show's artistic quality when we rate them. A red light rating means that the show may include gratuitous sex, explicit dialogue, violent content, and/or obscene language, and is, in our opinion, unsuitable for family viewing.

Is it necessary for PTC reports to be so graphic? Can't you allude to what is on shows without describing in detail the material you're criticizing?

The PTC regrets the necessity of publishing graphic examples of content from the most offensive prime time shows. Because it would be unfair to criticize programs without knowing the specifics of objectionable dialogue and visuals, the PTC must provide members who wish to contact sponsors, the FCC, etc to criticize shows with precise, detailed information.

It is not the intent of the PTC to duplicate the practices we are criticizing. The PTC Insider and website are aimed at adults, and particularly parents, so that they will have accurate information about the offensive content of certain programs (information that the current ratings system and plot summaries do not provide). Knowing that "sunshine is the best disinfectant," it is our intent to provide the information you need to present companies with substantive objections to the programs they sponsor. Also, the FCC currently requires a transcript of the show in order to investigate a broadcast indecency complaint. That means providing our members with the unpleasant facts about today's worst TV shows.

The PTC regrets that part of our mission necessitates presenting the unvarnished truth about television in order to convince those who support it to curtail offensive material. We hope you will take the information we provide in that spirit, and find it useful for that purpose.

Does the PTC organize or advocate boycotts?

No. The PTC aims to work with corporations and believes most of them have a sense of social responsibility. They need to advertise to sell their products, and we understand that. The PTC instead tries to appeal to that sense of social responsibility and corporations' own standards by making a well-documented case that certain shows are unsuitable at certain times and in venues where children are presumed to have unrestricted access. Our members, however, are free to tell advertisers what their own response to sponsorship of offensive programs will be.

Is the PTC involved with the Family Friendly Programming Forum?

The Family Friendly Programming Forum is not a PTC venture. It is an organization of corporations who belong to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Its members are corporations who, according to their mission statement, are concerned about promoting family-friendly programming. (You can read their roster and mission statement at the ANA website) As such, we've applauded them publicly, and work with them when possible.

There is a natural tension between these corporations' stated desire for more family-friendly shows and their interest in getting their message out to the public via advertising on television, the most popular form of entertainment, regardless of its program content. This means that Forum members will sometimes advertise on offensive or non-family-friendly shows, even during prime time. The PTC tries to minimize this by monitoring shows that don't square with the FFPF mission, and presenting information to forum members who advertise on those shows.

How can I contact the PTC for further information?

Parents Television Council
707 Wilshire Boulevard #2075
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Phone: (213) 403-1300
Email: editor@parentstv.org

To arrange a press interview with PTC Founder Brent Bozell, PTC President Tim Winter, Senior Director Programs Melissa Henson,  or any of the PTC's Advisory Board members, call or email our public relations consultant Kelly Oliver at CRC Public Relations at 703.683.5004. To schedule a speaking engagement with Brent Bozell, call his assistant Danette Williams at 703.684.1699.

2005 Annual Report

 

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