“Everyone has had the experience of going into a grocery store and reading the food labels,” says Tim Winter. “How much fat is in this product? How much sugar? People want to know what they’re ingesting.”
Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that monitors content on TV programs. He thinks that the current TV ratings system is ineffective, allowing adult content, like dangerous food ingredients, to be ingested both by children and adults who don’t want to let it into their homes.
Winter recently met with former Sen. Chris Dodd to discuss the TV rating system and to request a public hearing on the topic.
Dodd is the president of the Motion Picture Association of America and chairman of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which oversees the TV Content Ratings System. The ratings system has seven categories: TV-Y (All Children), TV-7 (Older Children), TV-Y7FV (Older Children-Fantasy Violence), TV-G (General Audience), TV-PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), TV-14 (Parents Strongly Cautioned), TV-MA (Mature Audience Only).
“I could not get Senator Dodd to agree on some sort of public hearing where people can come and look at this ratings system and its oversight,” Winter told CNSNews.com.
A spokesman for Dodd’s office confirmed the meeting but would not comment further, instead referring to a letter Dodd sent to Winter on June 16. In the letter Dodd cites surveys that show high approval for the current system, and writes that a forthcoming survey by the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board – also known as TV Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) - will show near-unanimous approval of the current ratings system.
The TV Oversight Monitoring Board is comprised of 24 members. 18 are reps from broadcast, cable and creative communities, 5 public interest members, and one is Dodd. Except for Dodd, the members of the TVOMB are anonymous. “TVOMB is not accountable to anyone outside its own membership,” Winter says. “It’s not transparent to the parents it supposedly serves. Most Americans don’t even know TVOMB exists.” Winter also told CNSNews he believes members of the TV Monitoring Board are entertainment industry insiders who benefit from lax ratings. “TV networks get revenues from corporate advertisers. Everyone agrees the TV ratings system are what they use to decide if they will underwrite. They don’t sponsor TV-MA shows.”
In a recent report, “Protecting Children or Protecting Hollywood?” the PTC reviews trends in the 20 years since the TV ratings system was inaugurated. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress called upon the entertainment industry to establish a voluntary television rating system to provide parents with information about material in television programming. The system would work the V-Chip, a device built into television sets that enables parents to block programming they determine to be inappropriate.
The PTC report makes five claims:
Regularly-scheduled series rated G (appropriate for all audiences) have been eliminated from prime time. The number of prime-time TV-G rated programs has decreased from 27 hours in a two-week period in 1997 to 0 hours in a two-week period in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, there were no regularly-scheduled prime-time series rated TV-G. 2.
There are fewer programs on prime-time broadcast television rated TV-PG. From 1997 to 2014, there was a 38% decrease in the number of hours networks aired TV-PG programming during prime time, thus significantly reducing viewing options for families.
There are fewer differences between the content of programs rated TV-PG and those rated TV-14.
Graphic content on television is increasing in both amount and intensity. Between 2011 and 2014, all violence per hour of programming on prime-time broadcast TV increased 6%; weapon-related violence (involving guns, bladed weapons, and blunt force) increased 17%; and nudity increased 93%.
Every hour of content on broadcast television is rated as appropriate for a 14-year-old child, or even younger ages.
For methodology the PTC relied on its own past studies. They also monitored all prime-time entertainment programs on all four major broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox) during the first two weeks of the November 2014 sweeps period.
The PTC also recently released a report on “The Real O’Neals,” the ABC show based on the life of sex columnist Dan Savage. The report found that the first three episodes of “The Real O’Neals” “were saturated with adult content. Children watching were exposed to either sexual dialogue or bleeped profanities on an average of once every 43 seconds – in spite of the fact that the show is rated TV-PG and airs as early as 7:30 p.m. in half the country.”
In his interview with CNSNews.com, Winter cited several instances of sexual content in the show "The Real O'Neals." “Should Dan Savage be rated PG?” Winter asked.
In a recent interview with Cablefax.xom, Missi Tessier, spokeswoman for the Executive Secretariat of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, cited a survey that supports the current system: “According to a survey conducted in 2014 by Hart Research Associates, almost 95 percent of parents say they are aware of the TV ratings system, while 72 percent of parents say they use the TV ratings and 84 percent of parents find the TV ratings system helpful.”
After meeting with Winter on June 9, Sen. Dodd sent the PTC president a letter. It reads in part:
As you know, the monitoring board conducts regular surveys of parents – our core constituency – to ensure that we are in touch with their concerns. We have been pleased with the results, which show that parents find the ratings useful and continue to have high awareness, understanding the positive and positive impressions of the ratings system. In a survey soon to be released, 96% of parents stated they were satisfied with the accuracy of the TV ratings. As discussed at our meeting, these are very positive numbers that are very difficult for any institution to maintain today. We have found these surveys useful in guiding us, and the Board will continue conducting surveys to learn from parents and ensure the ratings system continues to be useful to them.
Winter then responded with a letter, which reads in part:
Thank you for your letter dated yesterday, June 16th. I sincerely appreciate your reply and the additional information you provided. Thank you as well for the heads-up about the soon-to-be-released survey undertaken by the TVOMB. We eagerly await perusing the survey data so that we might understand how 96% of parents are satisfied with the accuracy of the TV ratings. Perhaps only 4% of parents are aware that the networks rate as child-appropriate TV content such as jokes about raping 9-year old girls; or jokes about a school principal sleeping with schoolboys; or nude little boys whose genitals are pixilated; or a woman committing suicide by shoving an icepick into her own eye socket; or a woman’s throat being slit so graphically that you see the knife pulled across her neck, with blood pouring such that she drowns in her own blood; or a male cheerleader lifting a female cheerleader into the air, then looking up her skirt and getting hit in the face with menstrual blood; or a reality dating show where, in each and every episode, all participants are nude with genital areas blurred; or the ubiquitous machine-gun slaughter. These examples are not just cherry-picking for PR purposes; rather they are reflective of programming that airs daily, yet is routinely rated as appropriate for children aged fourteen or even younger.