TV Watchdog: Graphic Throat Slashing Inappropriately Rated TV14

Barbara Hollingsworth | April 3, 2014 | 2:58pm EDT
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Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council (PTC)

( –  The Parents Television Council (PTC) has contacted advertisers of Fox Broadcastings’ “The Following” to complain about a recent episode the network approved for viewing by 14-year-olds that shows a deranged serial killer slitting a young woman’s throat open in lurid and graphic detail.

The dead victim’s bloody body is later shown in a close-up with the gaping slit still visible.

“How is that okay for a 14-year-old child to watch?” PTC president Tim Winter asked, adding that the networks’ voluntary ratings system, which is designed to alert parents to unsuitable material for children, is clearly not working.

Winter said his group has contacted sponsors KFC, Dunkin Donuts and Burger King to complain about the episode, which aired March 24th at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and 8 p.m. Central Standard Time, which is prime viewing time for families. So far, they have not responded, he said.

“Most of the big corporations do have standards and policies about what they sponsor,” Winter told “It’s important that we hold advertisers accountable for the media dollars they spend,”

The Washington-based TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, an industry body that is supposed to ensure that parents have the tools they need to monitor their children’s television viewing, “is supposed to make sure the ratings system works,” Winter pointed out.

“But when a TV show depicts a knife being pulled across the neck of a woman, the level of graphic violence which, by definition, should be rated TVMA (Mature Audience Only) as suitable for children, it seems to us that the industry is not meeting its own standards.

“The violence in this show meets or exceeds the most violent acts you can see on cable shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Justified’,” he added. “Yet Fox Broadcasting rated it TV14 (Parents Strongly Cautioned).” called Elissa Johansmeier, senior vice president for publicity and corporate communications at Fox Broadcasting, and asked her to comment on PTC's charges.

“Fox is not commenting. Thank you for the opportunity,” she replied.

Each network rates the content of its own shows according to an industry-wide standard that ranges from fare suitable for children as young as two (TVY) to programs that should only be viewed by mature adults (TVMA).

Another set of ratings are supposed to alert parents whenever a particular show contains “suggestive dialogue” (D), “coarse or crude language” (L), “sexual situations” (S), “violence” (V), or “fantasy violence” (FV).

“It’s up to each network’s broadcast standards director to decide how each show is rated,” Winter told “But over the years, we’ve noticed an increasing inconsistency and arbitrariness in the way the ratings are applied. There is supposed to be a sort of unified system, but there is none.”

For example, he said, PTC has found “the same episodes of the same shows rated for three different age groups. The exact same episode, without any editing, of ‘AHDH’ on Fox Broadcasting was rated TVMA one time and TV14 the next.”

The reason, he says, is that most corporate sponsors who underwrite the shows do not want to be connected with family-unfriendly shows rated TVMA, which contain very profane language and graphic images of sex and violence.

As a result, “if a TV executive decides to rate a show TVMA, he might lose a lot of money,” Winter pointed out. “The networks have a financial motivation to rate the show younger, and there’s nobody to tell them no.”

In contrast, “cable networks, which have subscribers and are less dependent on advertisers, are more accurate in their ratings,” he said,

Citing an Annenberg Public Policy Center study released last year that showed more gun violence in movies rated PG-13 than in R-rated films, Winter said the TV ratings system is also “inaccurate, inconsistent, not transparent, and has no public accountability.”

“A year ago, after the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut, Joe Biden invited TV executives to the White House to talk about media violence as the root cause of the violent culture in our day to-day lives,” Winter said. Those same executives promised to provide parents with the tools they needed to shield their children from violent images on TV.

“But those tools are fraudulent,” Winter told “They were intended to be rigged to give advertisers and parents inaccurate information.”

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