The non-partisan Parents Television Council has reviewed 392 primetime television programs that aired on broadcast networks between Jan. 11 and Feb. 11 — the month after a meeting of government and TV executives about gun reform.
Some of the major findings of the resulting study, “Gun violence is Hollywood’s favorite type of violence,” include:
- 193 shows included at least one act of violence.
- 121 shows included at least one act of gun violence.
- 54 percent of the CBS programs included gun violence.
When the entertainment executives issued a joint statement assuring Americans their industry “has a long-standing commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families,” those comments helped catalyze Parents Television Council into action via its new study.
During a recent interview, Parents Television Council president Tim Winter spoke about the backstory and consequences of “Gun violence is Hollywood’s favorite of violence.”
Deseret News: Why did you choose to do this particular study, in terms of timing and topical scope?
Tim Winter: It was really in response to the several days leading up to the (TV executives’) meeting with Vice President Biden on Jan. 11. Here in Los Angeles every January the Television Critics Association has their semiannual gathering. The Sandy Hook tragedy was still fresh in everybody’s minds, but when asked how they defend the violence of their shows, the TV network heads responded by pointing to others and saying, “Look at that one that’s more violent over there, and I have to compete with that.” So it was a finger-pointing exercise.
And when we heard that the industry leaders were being invited to the White House on Jan. 11 to meet Vice President Biden, and when we saw the statements that came from that meeting, we thought, “Well, let’s see if what they’re saying is true. Let’s hold them accountable. They’re saying they’re responsible; let’s take a look. They’re saying they’re being mindful and respectful and they’re giving parents the tools; let’s take a look.”
When you look at the volume and the degree of the gun violence, and some of the most horrific scenes of violence that followed in that 30-day period, every single one of those aired on primetime broadcast television — publicly owned airwaves — and was rated as appropriate for a 14-year-old child. So when you hear the finger pointing, when you hear the self-justification, our reaction is, “Let’s hold them to their words — let’s see if their deeds reflect their words.” And I think what we showed was in fact is (their deeds) don’t measure up.
D.N.: Who is ultimately responsible to protect kids from television programming that could be detrimental to them?
T.W.: Whenever you have a group — some multiple numbers of people who are ultimately accountable for something — and those individuals or groups engage in finger pointing, nobody’s held accountable. What we’re trying to do is say, “Let’s put the finger-pointing down.” Instead of saying, “Is it your fault or my fault,” let’s use the word “and”: everybody shares some degree of responsibility.
It starts with parents — they’re the first and last line of defense, and they have to be more involved in the media consumption of their children. But it doesn’t end there: You also have to talk about the broadcasters and what time of day they’re putting out there the type of material they’re (airing). You have to hold some level of accountability on those who create and produce programs, and you also have to have some level of responsibility for those who underwrite with their media dollars the advertisers.
D.N.: You mentioned advertisers; do you believe that advertisers have the ability and willingness to influence what types of content networks show on broadcast TV?
T.W.: I saw a statistic recently: In 2012, advertisers spent $76 billion just on television. And the sole purpose of each dollar was to influence the behavior of the viewer — that’s the only reason that advertisers spend a dollar, let alone $76 billion. And to say that the ability to influence the behavior of the viewer ends when the commercial’s over and the program begins is ludicrous. So the advertisers do share in the responsibility, and they don’t like it. They hate it, and they tell us they hate it when we talk to them.
(Advertisers) say, “We don’t want to be the arbiters of the content. We don’t want to be censors. We don’t want to tell people what to watch. All we want to do is find an audience.” And we say, “OK, that’s fine. But if Pepsi Cola were to buy a television show that made fun of Pepsi Cola, they’d stop sponsoring it. So you can’t say the content doesn’t matter.” The question is: Where is (the content’s) level of importance, as it relates to impact on our nation, on children, on families, on our society?
So by holding (advertisers) at least partially accountable — and holding the writers and producers at least partially accountable, and holding the networks partially accountable for when and where they air the stuff, and holding parents ultimately accountable — I think we have given our citizenry the ability to say, “We all have a piece in this together. And if everybody is going to hold everybody accountable, as opposed to finger-pointing, then we have an opportunity to have positive change here.”
Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at [email protected] or 801-236-6051.