Group calls for voluntary return to TV 'family hour'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A television watchdog group announced a campaign on Wednesday to press broadcast networks to voluntarily create a "family-friendly" hour of viewing between 8 and 9 each night.
"The face of the so-called family hour has changed dramatically," said L. Brent Bozell III, president and founder of the Parents Television Council (PTC). "It's an ugly, ugly sight."
In a report called "The Sour Family Hour," the PTC said that foul language, violence and sex were getting worse on the networks, particularly between 8 and 9 p.m., an hour that traditionally has been viewed as the "family hour" when less objectionable material is aired.
"Filthy language saw the most significant jump -- an increase of 78 percent over our most recent study," Bozell said.
Joining Bozell for the release of the report were Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, who signed an open letter to the presidents of six networks -- CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC, UPN and the WB, which is owned by AOL Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.
"Safeguarding the family hour cannot be compelled," the letter said; "rather, we appeal to your corporate conscience to reconsider the decision to allow this important public trust to disintegrate."
Brownback said such television programming as that pointed out by the PTC created a "darkening on the soul."
"It's terrible and it's disgusting and it's being targeted directly at our kids," he said.
Lieberman said that he relied on PTC's statistics to bolster his position about the status of family hour television.
"Coming back to the tapes reminds me how low the family hour has sunk and how far away we are from those glorious days when we used to sit in front of the TV as a family during the family hours," said Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Bozell's positions, however, are not universal. Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, told CNN that while creating a "safe harbor" for an hour was not a bad idea, children watch television at many other hours of the day.
"We also have to think about some other things," he said. "For many years, up to 1970 ... husbands and wives slept in separate beds, showing kids parents who have no physical relationship. That's almost as perverse as the other extreme we're going through now.
And Dr. Timothy Jay, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of "Why We Curse" and other books on language, said the PTC is exaggerating their statistics.
"These people have an agenda," he said. "I think the kind of exaggerations are saying something's up 78 percent when that means just one word and to label something obscenities which aren't obscenities -- that's a legal term which those people shouldn't use so cavalierly."
"I can go out on a playground and hear more per hour than what's on television," Jay said. "If people want to complain about something that's a problem -- underage drinking, drinking and driving and this kind of insidious exposure to this through sports (are) more important than the fact that my kid hears hell or ass on TV."
'This is not late-night, obscure cable'
Bozell said the PTC campaign for a voluntary "family hour" would be "the largest effort ever to bring about change in public broadcasting" and would include publicly shaming "those advertisers who market and sponsor violence filth and raunch."
"Unfortunately, we have no other choice," he said. "The networks, affiliates and sponsors are robbing our children of their innocence and this must stop. "
Bozell, who is also executive director of the Conservative Victory Committee, a political action committee that works to elect conservative political candidates, and a board member of the American Conservative Union, said the PTC viewed over 200 hours of programming between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. during the 2000-2001 television season, finding the quality lacking.
"This is not late-night, obscure cable television," he said. "This is broadcast television during the family hour with programs aimed at children. We're not talking about quality, mature programming like 'Frasier' and 'ER' that's designed for adults. We're talking about low-brow, raunchy programming like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Boston Public' and 'Smackdown' being deliberately and directly aimed at children."
Bozell showed reporters a compilation of television clips he said were aired on broadcast television between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. The clips showed several programs using words like "sucks," "bastard," "ass" and "bitch;" characters making references to pornography and oral sex; and two fully clothed men kissing.
Bozell said that while bad language and violence were on the rise at the broadcast networks, incidents of sexual content had actually decreased. But "it is far more explicit," he said.
Bozell and his group last week proclaimed that the voluntary ratings system used by television programs has encouraged rather than discouraged "violent and trashy material."
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