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CULTURE DIGEST: Reality shows called better for kids than other TV fare; abstinence programs’ new target group; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new study finds that reality shows are among the cleanest options on television for children, considering that many scripted shows contain high levels of sex, violence and profanity these days.

The Parents Television Council analyzed 20 of the most popular prime-time broadcast shows among children ages 2-17 according to rankings by Nielsen Media Research and determined that reality shows may be the least offensive.

“Every single scripted show that children watch is characterized by graphic sexual content, violence and coarse language,” L. Brent Bozell, president of the PTC, said in a news release Oct. 31. “Parents must be more concerned about what their children are watching. In addition, parents need to be wary about innocent-sounding television shows, such as Family Guy or American Dad. They are among the worst when it comes to pushing the limits of decency with heavy sexual innuendo, sexual themes and coarse language.”

PTC labeled six of the top 20 shows “most suitable”: “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “NBC Sunday Night Football,” “Deal or No Deal,” “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Inventor.” The shows ranked “questionably suitable” are “So You Think You Can Dance,” “The Simpsons,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Biggest Loser” and “Survivor.” The “not suitable” shows are “Lost,” “House,” “The War at Home,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Prison Break,” “American Dad,” “Family Guy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “C.S.I.”

PTC said its rankings are based on the frequency and explicitness of foul language, sexual content and violence present in each series along with consideration of time slot, target audience, themes and plotlines.

Bozell noted that children tend to want to watch shows with positive values and wholesome content like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and American Idol.

“Even though there are few choices for families, many children are watching more age-appropriate shows,” Bozell said. “This contradicts the prevailing industry attitude that programming has to push the limits of gratuitous content to attract an audience. If the television industry offered more family-friendly television programs, it is likely that children would watch.”

On the other hand, The New York Times Oct. 29 published an article about former reality show stars who claim producers got them to open up for the camera by providing them with a supply of liquor before tapings.

“… A number of reality show veterans … say that alcohol was one of the producers’ favorite tools. … The former contestants say producers made alcohol, but not food, very available, and encouraged them to drink before emotional scenes,” The Times said.

Producers and network representatives told The Times that social drinking is a fixture of modern life, especially among young adults, so depicting alcohol consumption is an essential part of some reality shows. They also say contestants have the ability to refuse alcohol.

ABSTINENCE SHIFTS TOWARD YOUNG ADULTS — Unmarried adults up to age 29 now may be included in abstinence programs sponsored by the federal government under revised grant guidelines for the coming year.

The revision for Title V, a $50 million program, is directed toward 19- to 29-year-olds because more women in that age group are having children out of wedlock, according to Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The message is ‘It’s better to wait until you’re married to bear or father children,’” Horn said, according to USA Today Oct. 31. “The only 100 percent effective way of getting there is abstinence.”

States now can use their federal grants for abstinence education to target people in an age range from 12 to 29 years old, rather than just teenagers, according to the revision.

“All we did in our announcement is say if you want to target this age group, it’s permissive. It’s not a requirement,” Wade told the Associated Press.

MASONS STILL STRUGGLE WITH RACIAL ISSUES — Segregation remains a struggle in the Deep South among the Masons, a well-known fraternal order, according to a report by the Associated Press Oct. 23. The group has long been split between the Grand Lodge for whites and Prince Hall for blacks, and in several states, the two refuse to recognize one another.

The issue surfaced recently when opponents of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley dogged him during his re-election bid for being a member of an all-white lodge, AP said. And in North Carolina, white Masons recently voted down an option to recognize members of the black group as fellow Masons.

“Only the states of the old Confederacy, minus Virginia and plus West Virginia, don’t have mutual recognition,” Paul Bessel, a Maryland Mason, told AP. “There are, I’m sorry to say, some Masons who are racists. But the vast majority don’t feel that way.”

Black Masons in North Carolina decided in 2004 to recognize white Masons, so whites’ decision not to follow suit “raises the ugly head of racism, segregation, all over again,” according to the leader of Prince Hall Masons in North Carolina, AP reported.

MUSLIM WORKERS SUSPENDED — Union workers at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris are threatening a strike at the end of November because of alleged bias against Muslim workers after 72 of them were denied the security clearance necessary to do their jobs.

At least one-fifth of the airport’s 83,000 employees are Muslim, according to union estimates, and more than 100 of them have been investigated recently for terrorist connections, The New York Times said Oct. 31. The 72 who were stripped of access badges had traveled to Pakistan or Afghanistan. One had been employed by the airport for 16 years.

“We have not seen any objective evidence against our clients,” an attorney for some of the suspended workers told The Times. “The only common denominator we see today is that they are all Muslim.”

CROSS REMOVED FROM CHAPEL — At the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., school officials have removed the 2-foot-high gold cross from the front of a chapel in the Sir Christopher Wren Building.

“In order to make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area,” an e-mail to building employees said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch Oct. 29.

Though the cross will not be a constant fixture in the chapel, it remains available for Christian groups to move back to the altar for religious services.

BAYLOR REJECTS PLAYBOY — Four years ago, when four girls and some fraternity members at Baylor University appeared in an issue of Playboy magazine, school officials responded by suspending the fraternity and ordering students to perform community service. This time, they’re making a pre-emptive strike to keep students away from the pornographic photo shoots.

The Dallas Morning News reported Oct. 20 that Dub Oliver, vice president for student life at Baylor, sent a university-wide e-mail warning that posing for “a magazine that is clearly antithetical to Baylor’s mission” would violate the school’s code of conduct and students would be punished.

Another Texas school with religious affiliations, Southern Methodist University, the newspaper noted, is taking a different approach and letting students decide whether to subject themselves to the stigma associated with the magazine.

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  • Erin Roach