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Watchdogs: TV ruder, cruder despite ratings

family viewing TV
Entertainment industry sources say the ratings system was only meant to give parents guidance, not to alter television programming


Read the Parents Television Council findings


Violence in entertainment

CNN's Jeanne Meserve shows programs cited by the Parents Television Council
Windows Media 28K 80K

System wasn't designed to change content

May 27, 1999
Web posted at: 9:39 a.m. EDT (1339 GMT)

In this story:

The networks respond

Government action?


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sex, violence and crude language have become more common on U.S. prime-time television despite a voluntary ratings system intended to help parents choose shows appropriate for their children, a media watchdog group says.

The ratings system has actually prompted some in the television industry to push the envelope even further, said L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the Parents Television Council.

"Television is the raunchiest it has ever been in spite of, or perhaps because of, the ratings system," Bozell said Wednesday.

The council studied two weeks of November sweeps programming for each of the past three years on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, WB and UPN.

"Sexual content, foul language and violent content combined rose by more than 30 percent from November 1996, just before the original ratings system was implemented, to November 1998," Bozell said.

"Sexual content alone increased by more than 42 percent, with ABC easily leading the networks in this category," the study found. "Fox and WB were close together in second and third."

WB is owned by Time-Warner, the parent company of CNN.

The networks respond

remote control
Some say sex, violence and crude language on television have increased since a ratings system was implemented  

Broadcasters disagreed with the findings, citing a network-funded UCLA study from 1998 showing that networks had tempered the amount and nature of violence on their programs over the previous three years.

"We're not the Disney channel, and we're not supposed to be," said one broadcaster, asking to remain anonymous.

ABC -- home to the sex-sprinkled show "The Practice" -- dismissed the watchdog group's study as erroneous.

"ABC is a responsible programmer. This study is seriously flawed. Their numeric counts based on their subjective definitions could not possibly yield a meaningful evaluation of program content," an ABC statement said.

One industry sources argues the rating system was never intended to change programming content, only to give guidance to parents.

Government action?

Lieberman says parents want higher standards from the entertainment industry  

But some members of Congress believe the study proves broadcasters are ignoring the public interest.

"This report underscores the point that ratings V-chips are ultimately not the cure for what ails television," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat. "Parents clearly want more than good labels on bad programs. They want higher standards."

Lieberman said the content of a TV station's programming should help determine whether its federal license is renewed. "I think it's time we look directly at programming content."

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, has sponsored provisions in the juvenile justice bill the Senate passed last week authorizing the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department to investigate whether Hollywood is marketing violent shows and games to children.

"It is in the public interest to know whether entertainment companies are making a killing off our kids," he said.

Buffy takes aim
Buffy, the heroine of the WB's series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," takes aim at a monster who has invaded her school. The show has come under fire for its violent content  

Another provision encourages TV networks, cable companies and the movie, music and video game industries to enter into a voluntary code of conduct.

Bozell and the lawmakers, who appeared together at a Capitol Hill news conference, said there are signs the entertainment industry is getting the message.

They pointed to CBS's decision last week to leave off its schedule a pilot series about a mob war in New York City because of concerns about its violence.

Citing the "current climate" of sensitivity regarding school violence, WB this week shelved the season finale of its popular series "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." The episode depicts students attacking a human who threatens them when he turns into a monster.

Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

White House summit looks for answers to youth violence
May 10, 1999
Poll: Violence in the media should be regulated
May 3, 1999
Study: TV shows too much sex without responsibility
February 9, 1999
Study: 'Electronic baby sitter' overexposes youth to sex, violence
January 6, 1999

Parents Television Council
U.S. Senate
  • U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman
Federal Trade Commission
U.S. Department of Justice
Warner Brothers TV Network
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy Interactive
The National Coalition on Television Violence
TV Parental Guidelines
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