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TV-PG rating fails to protect children, new study shows

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2012 9:04 a.m. MDT

The Parents Television Council determined shows with a TV-PG rating incorporate content inappropriate for children an average of once every 5.5 minutes.

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The non-partisan advocacy organization Parents Television Council published a new study last week detailing the inadequacy of the TV-PG television rating at protecting children from exposure to inappropriate content. Specifically, the study “What Kids Can See When It’s Rated TV-PG” determined a child watching primetime shows with the TV-PG rating would be exposed to explicit adult-oriented content more than once every six minutes.

The new PTC analysis is based on two weeks of data combed from the primetime programming of FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC during the first two weeks of ratings sweeps in November 2011. Excluding news and sports programming, the four networks’ primetime shows from that period yielded a combined 59 hours to the study — and from that sample PTC tallied 637 instances of what it considers explicit language, violence or sexual content.

Via press release, PTC president Tim Winter said, “Even the most diligent parent who only allows TV-PG rated content into their home would be exposing their children unwittingly to a torrent of sex, violence and profanity on a nightly basis. … Broadcast networks produce and rate their own content, leaving parents with a deeply flawed and largely inaccurate ratings system. An accurate and accountable system would steer informed families and many advertisers away from harsh content, costing the networks a material loss in revenue. This is a clear conflict of interest.”

Definitions and methodology

The 637 occurrences of explicit content are broken down into three basic categories — sex, language and violence — as follows:

Adult sexual content: 181 instances include the sub-categories of nudity, sexual acts, sexual innuendo and anatomical references.

Offensive language: 239 instances incorporate curse words such as “hell” or “damn,” epithets, sexually suggestive language and language censored by bleeping or muting.

Violence: 217 instances are distinguished as actual or implied, with additional sub-categories for extremely graphic and medical-based violence.

Calling out Congress

After finalizing its new analysis about the TV-PG rating, PTC sent a letter to every member of Congress.

Dated Sept. 19, the two-page letter reads in part, “January 2013 will mark the 15-year anniversary of the initial proposal by the television industry of the existing system for rating television programming to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After 15 years of a poorly conceived, poorly executed, poorly overseen system, it is time to give American families more tools and more choices to contain the flow of objectionable entertainment content entering their homes. … Based on the findings of this report as well as numerous others, the television content rating system is in urgent need of substantial reform.”

J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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