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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 18, 2005

 

PTC Study Finds TV Ratings System A Failure

TV Programs Lack Accurate Ratings; V-chip Cannot Work With Inaccurate Ratings

LOS ANGELES - Today, the Parents Television Council (PTC), the nation's most influential advocacy organization protecting children against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, released a new study, "The Ratings Sham: TV Executives Hiding Behind a System That Doesn't Work," that found the current ratings system and V-chip are failures.

"Our findings show the blatant hypocrisy of TV executives who claim that parents should rely on TV ratings and the V-chip to protect their children. Most television programs showing foul language, violence, and inappropriate sexual dialogue or situations do not use the appropriate content descriptors that would warn parents about the presence of offensive content," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.

For this study, the PTC examined prime time entertainment programs from the first two weeks of the November 2003, February 2004, and May 2004 sweeps on the seven commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, ITV, UPN, and the WB). These weeks traditionally have mostly original programming, which typically means a high level of indecent material as networks attempt to boost ratings. The study period comprised 638 shows, and a total of 528 hours.

The PTC set out to evaluate whether the programs were appropriately and consistently labeled with the age-based and content ratings that would trigger the V-chip and thus allow parents to block objectionable content.

Major Findings:

● Every network had problems with the accurate and consistent application of content descriptors (a D, S, L, or V indicating the presence of suggestive dialogue, sexual behavior, foul language, or violence), which were added to the TV ratings system after complaints that the earlier age-based ratings system was too vague.

● To this day, NBC still does not use content descriptors on its programs. Moreover, 36% of NBC's programs reviewed for this study received a TV-PG rating, even though many of these shows contained foul language and adult sexual content.

● Of the 85 PG-rated shows on ABC, 52% were missing necessary content descriptors. 40% of the PG-rated shows containing foul language lacked an L descriptor; 75% of shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 60% of the shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and 92% of the shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.

73% of ABC's TV-14-rated shows lacked appropriate content descriptors.

● CBS fared better than ABC with the content descriptors, but still has plenty of room for improvement. Of the 89 shows given a PG rating, 34% of the shows containing foul language lacked an L descriptor; 44% of the shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 57% of the shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and none of the 19 shows containing sexual behavior featured the S descriptor.

● 81% of CBS's TV-14-rated shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor.

On the WB network, of the 49 PG-rated shows containing foul language, 59% lacked an L descriptor. Of the 26 PG-rated shows containing violence, 35% lacked the V descriptor. Of the 50 PG-rated shows with sexual dialogue, 64% lacked the D descriptor.

82% of WB's TV-14-rated shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.

On Fox, 43% of the shows were missing appropriate content descriptors. 22% of the shows missing sexual content descriptors were in the seven o'clock hour (on Sunday, prime time begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern) and 33% in the eight o'clock hour.

● 42% of Fox's PG-rated shows containing foul language lacked the L descriptor; 60% of the PG-rated shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 71% of the PG-rated shows containing suggestive dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and 76% of the shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.

UPN did a good job of identifying foul language. Of the 26 PG-rated shows with foul language, only 3 lacked the L descriptor. With respect to other kinds of content, UPN fared worse. Of the 63% of PG-rated shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 67% of the PG shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and 93% of the PG shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.

Even the wholesome ITV network has problems with rating its programs appropriately. Because it is owned by NBC, ITV also does not use content descriptors. Nevertheless, 80% of the shows it gave a TV-G rating featured foul language and should have been given an L descriptor.

"The TV ratings are meaningless. There is no inter-network consistency in the ratings, nor is there even intra-network consistency. The ratings system is a failure and consequently the V-chip, which depends upon reliable ratings to work, also is a failure. It cannot be relied upon to consistently and accurately block offensive programming since parents can't rely on the ratings to identify potentially offensive content," Bozell continued.

"Broadcasters are responsible for rating their own shows, yet they are financially motivated to under-rate their programs so that they don't scare advertisers away.

"The descriptors are the key to the V-chip's effectiveness. It is not enough to simply educate the public about the V-chip. Networks, intent on relying on the device, must be held accountable to rate shows in a manner that makes the device useful. If parents cannot understand the arbitrary way in which the networks rate their shows and cannot trust the V-chip to block shows because of the lack of content descriptors, they are powerless to decipher what is suitable for their children," concluded Bozell.

Read the Full Study


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 over one 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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