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Press Release

November 21, 2008

PTC Calls on Oprah Affiliates for Later Airing and Accurate Content Rating of Sex Therapy Episode

Oprah Warns Viewers but Affiliates Won’t


LOS ANGELES (November 21, 2008) – The Parents Television Council™ called on the affiliate television station distributors of the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” including the ABC owned-and-operated stations, to correct their content ratings system given that a recent episode of “Oprah” titled “Behind Closed Doors: Sex Therapy” was only rated TV-14. Such a content rating means the episode, which contained graphic sexual content, was suitable for 14-year-old children. The second part of that series will air today, November 21.

The “Oprah Winfrey Show” repeatedly warned viewers of the content of the first episode before and during the broadcast, which aired on November 3.  Promos for the episode tagged it as being extremely graphic in content, and coming out of every single advertising break, viewers were warned that the material was only intended for a mature audience.

In a letter, the PTC commended Oprah for her efforts to caution audiences about the episode, but PTC President Tim Winter pointed out that the show’s efforts were undermined by the stations that aired the show with a TV-14 rating. Given the graphic conversation and subject matter, the program should have been rated TV-MA so parents who use the V-Chip could have blocked the show. And since advertisers often use the content ratings system to determine whether or not to sponsor a program, they were unable to make an informed decision without an accurate account of the content.


“While we appreciate Oprah’s efforts in warning viewers – which she did in every promotion and coming out of every commercial break – we condemn the affiliate stations, including the ABC O&O’s, for suggesting such graphic content is appropriate for children as young as 14.  We hope that ABC and the other affiliates will correct this error on the second episode of the series which airs today, and look into its ratings system overall to ensure that its other shows are rated accurately,” Winter said.


“Most parents would agree that such a graphic discussion about sex is inappropriate for 14-year-olds – at least without parental supervision or involvement.  And because ‘Oprah’ airs in the afternoon, the TV-14 content rating is particularly troubling. This begs the bigger question of why such extremely graphic material would air at all in the early afternoon, when most children are home from school. If the program was intended to help adults, and if it was targeted only for adults, then why wouldn’t stations air the program later at night when children are in bed?”

Every television program carries a content rating, which allows parents to use their V-Chip to block material they deem to be inappropriate for their children.  The V-Chip technology only works if the TV content rating is accurate.

“The episode should have been rated TV-MA (Mature Audience Only).  If the TV Networks are going to force parents to rely on the V-Chip to make informed viewing choices for their families, then the content rating has to be correct.  If advertisers are going to use the content rating as a resource for deciding what programs (or episodes) to sponsor, then the content rating has to be correct in that case as well,” continued Winter.

“PTC research has repeatedly demonstrated that television content is regularly mis-rated, and therefore fails to provide appropriate age-based guidelines or to warn viewers about the presence of sexual content, suggestive dialogue, violence or foul language.  We believe that the TV networks mis-rate their programs intentionally, because accurate and reliable ratings information might reduce the audience size and discourage advertisers from sponsoring the program.  This is a real problem and a growing concern to parents, especially when the broadcast industry points to this technology as the reasonable way to protect children from inappropriate material.

“We hope ‘Oprah’ distributors will choose to air this program later at night, and we hope they will reevaluate their criteria for applying program content ratings so it is accurate, consistent and transparent,” Winter concluded.


To speak with a representative from the Parents Television Council, please contact Kelly Oliver (ext. 140) or Megan Franko (ext. 148) at (703) 683-5004.

The Parents Television Council™ (www.parentstv.org®) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children. The PTC also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.




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