Is TV Still True to Its Principles?

Written by PTC | Published July 31, 2017

The content of many TV shows today says “no.” At a time when it faces competition not only from cable and satellite, but also from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, broadcast TV remains the most important source of news and entertainment, said Gordon Smith, President of the National Association of Broadcasters, in a recent speech. Smith noted that “Even in this era of unprecedented competition for eyeballs, broadcast TV airs 90 of the top 100 most-watched television shows every week.” In his speech at the NAB’s annual convention, Smith also boasted that "Broadcasters carry the torch of freedom and integrity, and we must use this to question those in power, to expose those who abuse their positions and to find the truth.” However, TV doesn’t seem interested in examining one group that “abuses their position” and power: broadcasters themselves. Every time networks or stations have been fined for violating laws against broadcasting indecent content, the TV industry never simply pays the fine, apologizes, and cleans up its act. Instead, the standard operating procedure in TV is to battle the fine in court, with some cases dragging on for over a decade; and often, the networks counter-sue the Federal Communications Commission in the bargain. And all the while, they continue to use the airwaves owned by the American people to push ever-more profanity, sexual content, and graphic violence at teens and children in prime-time – usually on programs that have been incorrectly rated by the broadcasters themselves. In the 1990s, the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a “Statement of Principles” which stated that “Each broadcaster should exercise responsible and careful judgement in the selection of material for broadcast…Great care should be paid to treatment and presentation, so as to avoid presentations purely for the purpose of sensationalism or to appeal to prurient interest or morbid curiosity. In scheduling programs of particular sensitivity, broadcasters should take account of the composition and the listening or viewing habits or their specific audiences. Scheduling generally should consider audience expectations and composition in various time periods.” Other specific guidelines subscribed to in the NAB’s Statement included:
  • “Violence, physical or psychological, should only be portrayed in a responsible manner and should not be used exploitatively…The use of violence for its own sake and the detailed dwelling upon brutality or physical agony, by sight or by sound, should be avoided.”
  • “Where significant child audience can be expected, particular care should be exercised when addressing sexual themes. Programming that purely panders to prurient or morbid interests should be avoided.”
  • “The use of illegal drugs or other substance abuse should not be encouraged or shown as socially desirable.”
It is difficult to see how programs like NBC’s Law & Order: SVU (an entire series about child molesters), or Fox’s The Mick and Family Guy reflect these sentiments. But at least the networks can be sure of one thing: neither their fellow broadcasters nor the president of the NAB will ever call them out on their hypocrisy.

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