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Network TV ‘worse than ever’ in family hour, study reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While television’s prime time has been known for decades as “the family hour,” the latest research shows it rarely is that, according to a study by the largest Hollywood-based media watchdog organization in America.
“The Family Hour: Worse Than Ever and Headed for New Lows,” an 11-page report released Aug. 31 by the Parents Television Council, shows in detail objectionable elements aired during the networks’ 8-9 p.m. Eastern time slot.
The study reflects not only the networks’ trend in their use of objectionable elements, but also an acceleration in that trend over the past year and a half.
PTC’s report focuses on prime-time programming aired November 1997 through May 1999 and quantifies the types and instances of objectionable material shown during that time. Objectionable material, defined as “lewd references to sexual activity, foul language and violent incidents,” in family hour programming on the broadcast networks is up 75 percent, according to the report.
In its analysis, PTC found the use of coarse language in prime-time shows has increased 58 percent, and violence has increased 86 percent. The use of suggestive sexual content has increased 77 percent and is described as “easily the most common of the three types of offensive material” in prime time, since “more than two-thirds of family-hour shows included sexual content.”
The study shows the Fox network to be the worst offender, using “exactly eleven offensive instances per hour.” PTC found “not a single series on Fox during the ‘family hour’ is appropriate for families.”
CBS was the “least offensive network,” with 3.62 objectionable instances per hour, the report states.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said anyone who examines the study “can come to no other conclusion than that the broadcast networks are totally impervious to the concerns of parents, grandparents and other Americans who are rightfully appalled by the cesspool into which American television has sunk.”
“For all of their mouthing of platitudes and stonewalling on the issue of violence and indecency in network prime time, the results of this study make clear to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see that the content of network television in primetime is worse than ever, the rate of decline is accelerating and the industry is absolutely unwilling and unable to police itself,” Land said. “Hollywood’s efforts to disguise this, while tap dancing around the issue and denying responsibility, have been utterly undone by the hard facts revealed in this study.
“The real question is what will the American public do now to insist that the nation’s airwaves be fumigated of this moral pestilence,” Land continued. “Our broadcast networks have shown us that there is more than one kind of toxic waste in our atmosphere — the moral toxic waste poured out by the networks being delivered into our children’s minds and hearts through the filter of the television screen.”
So far Fox has “refused to comment on the study,” said PTC senior analyst Tom Johnson, one of the authors of the study, in an interview with Baptist Press Sept. 2. Johnson said a CBS spokesperson called the report “ludicrous and completely misguided.”
Mark Honig, PTC’s executive director, said in an Aug. 31 interview with Conservative News Service that the broadcast networks’ measurable increase in the use of objectionable elements during the classic family hour means “there’s no effort on the part of the industry to clean up the content of prime time.”
The CNS article reports a comment by Brad Turell, executive vice president of WB’s network communications, concerning Honig’s comment: “I think shows like ‘Seventh Heaven,’ ‘Safe Harbor’ and ‘Sister Sister,’ among others, rank the WB with more hours of family programming than any other network.” Turell also called WB “more proactive than any other network” in creating family friendly television. WB is involved in the Family Friendly Forum, “a group of advertisers promoting the development of TV shows with a broader family appeal,” CNS reported, also stating, “The PTC has applauded WB programs like ‘Seventh Heaven’ for their family appeal.
However, CNS also quoted Turell as stating, “We’re just as proud of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Dawson’s Creek,’” both of which contain examples of objectionable material cited in PTC’s report on the family hour.
ABC’s Edward Dandridge, vice president of communications, told CNS he could not comment on the PTC study since he had not read it, but he also said the findings are “probably not accurate” since no programming after May 1999 was studied. Paul McGuire, senior vice president of media relations for UPN, declined to comment on PTC’s report. No one from NBC returned numerous telephone calls by CNS for comment.
The front page of the Sept. 1 issue of Daily Variety highlighted the PTC report with the headline, “Parent org blasts TV’s Family Hour.” The Sept.2 issue of The Washington Times headlined its report on PTC’s study with “TV’s ‘Family hour’ slimier.”
The importance of PTC’s study of family hour programming lies in its analysis of “the impact of popular culture on the nation’s morals,” Johnson said. Cable programming during prime time was not included in the study “because we have a small staff doing all we can handle right now,” Johnson added.
The full report on the family hour, prefaced with a warning that it contains language that may be found offensive, is posted on the PTC Internet site at www.parentstv.org.
PTC is a subsidiary of the Media Research Center, headed by nationally syndicated columnist L. Brent Bozell II.
The networks once operated with a “civic duty to behave in a responsible manner. You can forget all that today,” Bozell in his Aug. 31 column.
“Responsible programming has also been abandoned,” Bozell wrote. “The industry as a whole has not only forsaken any appeal to the better angels of the public’s nature, but is actively feeding the most crass and destructive temptations, demographic by demographic. And it’s in this foul environment that, perhaps not surprisingly, the most offensive programming is being aimed at youngsters during the so-called family hour.”
Bozell founded the Media Research Center in 1987, then in 1995 started the Parents Television Council, described as “the only Hollywood-based organization dedicated to restoring responsibility to the entertainment industry.” PTC, a nonprofit organization, currently has about 300,000 members, many of whom are Hollywood celebrities and elected officials.
The two main things concerned citizens should do now with information from the study is “get in touch with the networks and get in touch with the sponsors,” Johnson said, to “let them know your feelings.” They could also consider joining PTC, Johnson said.
PTC had a “huge increase in membership” following the publication of full-page ads featuring celebrity Steve Allen, one of PTC’s national honorary co-chairpersons. Ads, some costing as much as $36,000, have been placed in such nationally read papers as The New York Times and USA Today.
In one of the ads, Allen, creator of “The Tonight Show,” states, “TV is leading children down a moral sewer.” He asks, “Are you as outraged as I am at how TV is undermining the morals of children … encouraging them to have pre-marital sex … encouraging lack of respect for authority … and shaping our country down to the lowest standards of decency?” Allen urges readers to seek change by contacting TV advertisers, noting, “Recently viewers critical of just one TV program let the sponsors know of their anger, and over 35 sponsors cancelled their ads!”
Earlier this summer, former U.S. Presidents Carter and Ford were part of a group of about 60 other Americans who made an appeal to the entertainment industry “to institute a new code of conduct that will reduce violent and sexual content” in network programming, as reported in the July 22 issue of Baptist Press. In “An Appeal to Hollywood” released July 21, the group called for “executives of the media industry — as well as CEOs of companies that advertise in the electronic media — to join with us, and with America’s parents, in a new social compact aimed at renewing our culture and making our media environment more healthy for our society and safer for our children.”
The document, released at a Capitol Hill news conference, says the new code would establish minimum standards for violence, sex and degrading material “below which producers can be expected not to go;” would bring commitments from the industry to reduce the level of violence and to create “good family oriented entertainment;” revive television’s “family hour;” and prohibit the targeting of youth markets with adult-oriented material. It should be modeled on the National Association of Broadcasters code, which TV broadcasters followed for 30 years, the appeal says.
The public request came in the midst of surveys showing growing concern about the content of the entertainment media and of reports that this fall’s new television shows will contain more vulgarity than ever.
The appeal states that parents are responsible for supervising their children’s access to television, movies, music, videos, video games and the Internet, but “even the most conscientious parent cries out for help from an industry that too often abdicates its responsibility for its powerful impact on the young.”
Last year, the Parents Television Council released a report showing the ratings system was failing to live up to its purpose. The study of programs during the family hour on prime time showed 65 percent of shows containing foul language failed to carry an L for language and 76 percent with sexual innuendo did not receive a D for dialogue.
Congress has adopted legislation requiring a V-chip in all new televisions. The V-chip will enable parents to block programs from viewing based on the ratings system. All television models 13 inches and larger have to include the V-chip by Jan. 1 of next year, according to rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
The Parents Television Council’s www.parentstv.org website features a variety of ways for concerned citizens to take action, along with a list of PTC’s celebrity advisory board members. The PTC mailing address for more information is 600 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017.

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  • Debbie Moore