• Why Ratings Reform Is Needed Now

    by  • April 6, 2016 • Ratings Reform • 6 Comments


    The PTC’s president kicks off the campaign for Ratings Reform – by demonstrating why such reform is so desperately needed.

    The following is a transcript of remarks made by PTC President Tim Winter introducing the PTC’s Ratings Reform campaign at a press conference on Monday, April 4, 2016.


    Many of you have heard this from me before: the TV content ratings system is inaccurate, and the consequence is harm to children.  So, why am I saying these words, yet again, for the umpteenth time?

    We knew we had to launch a bigger campaign when a sexual intercourse scene, aired during a teen-targeted television show, included the woman telling the man to “Stick your finger in my ass” — and yet the program was rated as appropriate for children.

    In recent years, we’ve demonstrated that the volume and degree of violence on broadcast TV is approaching that of cable. In recent months, we’ve seen a woman commit suicide by shoving an ice pick into her eye; a man pull a razor blade across a woman’s throat as she choked to death on her own blood; and a man stab a woman to death as she was performing oral sex on him in the front seat of his car.  Yet these shows — and every other program on broadcast TV — is rated as appropriate for children.

    Increasingly explicit dialogue is coming not just from adult characters, but from the child characters.  Just two weeks ago on the Disney-owned ABC network’s program The Real O’Neals, a character used the words “ass, bitch, butthead, douche, slut, slut shamer, slut bag, and slut basket” in one sentence.  The show was rated PG, which is the same rating Disney uses for Cinderella, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur.

    Today marks not just the release of our report, but the public launch of our campaign for content ratings reform. 

    confused_ladyIn 1996, the Federal Communications Commission adopted an order authorizing the creation of three things: the V-chip, a TV content ratings system, and an oversight monitoring board, ostensibly to ensure the system’s effectiveness.  The reality is that the system has only provided political cover for television networks, rather than benefiting those whom it was purportedly intended to serve – parents and families.

    First, in order for the V-chip to work, the content ratings must be correct.  But there are no independent or objective arbiters for rating television content.  Unlike the Motion Picture Association of America, TV network executives rate their own material.  Parents are told to rely on the ratings.  Major TV sponsors also rely on the ratings, because most have a policy not to sponsor TV-MA programming.

    Second, the oversight monitoring board is composed of the very same individuals who mis-rate programming to begin with. 

    This creates an inherent conflict of interest, and we’re seeing tangible proof of the broken system every day.

    I told two FCC chairmen – in person – about the “stick your finger” content.  The first instance resulted in the only time I ever saw Julius Genachowski speechless; and the second led to my being invited to personally present my concerns to the oversight monitoring board, or TVOMB.

    Leading up to my attendance at the TVOMB meeting in June of 2014, I asked if I could invite a journalist who covered the entertainment industry beat, so that he or she could report on the dialogue;  I mentioned by name John Eggerton from Broadcasting & Cable, and Dave Bauder from the Associated Press.  Both have written on the PTC’s work in years past. Both have been fair in their reporting, but neither has been particularly friendly to our efforts.  I was told “No, absolutely not.  No members of the press are allowed to attend.” 

    I then asked if I could invite someone from the FCC to sit in on the meeting. I specifically suggested Matthew Berry from Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office, who served previously as the FCC’s General Counsel.  Again, I was told, “Absolutely, no.” 

    I said it was concerning that there was no transparency for a group whose work impacted children and families every day; but I was told that under no circumstances would an independent observer be permitted. 

    I was also told privately by an outside source that the monitoring board had not actually met in a number of years, and that there was no public record of what took place at the meetings.

    covering_eyesSo I went to Washington.  Despite the fact that the FCC order states that there are to be five public interest groups on TVOMB, only two groups were present at that meeting, one of which was a lobbyist representing a firm hired by the industry.  All others were industry executives.  Even the administration of TVOMB is handled by employees from an influential lobbying firm called Podesta Group.

    During the meeting I showed numerous video clips with explicit television content, including the aforementioned “stick your finger” clip.  I asked the group how that could possibly be considered as appropriate for children as young as 14.  The attendees shrugged, and the verbal response was that all content ratings are subjective.  My response was that the reason there is an oversight board is to bring objectivity to the process. 

    We subsequently offered a number of recommendations that would bring greater accuracy, consistency, transparency, and public accountability to the content ratings system.  Not coincidentally, TVOMB published polling data that was about as objective as what we might expect from Pyongyang.  The system is valuable and works just fine, we were told.

    Members of the TVOMB subsequently accepted my invitation to visit the PTC offices in Los Angeles, and view in person how we conduct our research gathering and reporting.  But nothing of substance came from it.  Nothing has changed, because they don’t want it to change.  The system works just the way the industry intended. 

    To my knowledge, no other federally-sanctioned oversight function is handled by the very industry it is intended to watchdog.  The system needs comprehensive reform.  With the release of our research report today, we are calling for a complete overhaul to the current TV Content Ratings System.  The FCC has the authority to accept or reject the system in total, and barring immediate and comprehensive changes, we call on the FCC to formally reject the current system that fails parents every single day. 

    They say that the fish stinks from its head to its tail.  That is an apt description of the content ratings system.


    To review the latest study, see real examples of misrated content,  and to learn how to take action and fix this broken system, go to: TV Content Rating Reform



    6 Responses to Why Ratings Reform Is Needed Now

    1. D
      April 20, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Go back to the days of the NAB television code. Changing the ratings system so that programs get rated TV-14 or TV-MA more often won’t solve anything. It just makes those programs more attractive to kids.

    2. Justin
      April 15, 2016 at 8:20 am

      Sometimes I think companies don’t even know what the content is of the TV shows they are advertising on, or even *which* shows they are advertising on. I’m a member of One Million Moms, and we’ve done email campaigns to companies advertising on objectionable shows (both cable and broadcast) where many times the company subsequently removed their advertising from the show after they claimed they didn’t know the objectionable content of the show they were advertising on. Or maybe they saw it was rated TV-14 and thought that was “family friendly?”

      I think a lot of these companies farm out their TV advertising to third-party ad agencies who decide which TV shows to advertise on, maybe the company just tells the ad agency “we want to reach 25-40 year old females” or something, and the companies don’t even know which shows their company ends up being advertised on.

    3. Taydrapunzel
      April 13, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      TV-Y: Yeah, you can watch it. It teaches you the beautiful ABCs and 123s! (But it will torturously annoy any adult watching with you)

      TV-Y7: Yeah, you can watch it. It doesn’t have ABCs or 123s but it”s waaay less annoying than my little bro. People are fighting but with magic and stuff, yeah, you like magic. I bet you do. Bibbidi bobbidi boo.

      TV-G: What is this? It’s educational but does not necessarily appeal to kids nor adults. I think I’m lost.

      TV-PG: Yeah, you can watch it, but with an adult who should be aware of what happens on this show and expects the same for you.

      TV-14: SWEET 14!!! I’m only for the mature and cool kids. I’m a little more lit than TV-PG.

      TV-MA: UH, YOUR PARENTS DO THE SAME THING. IT’S HOW YOU WERE MADE. Let’s just say they had a little more consideration and love than the characters on the show they rated as me. But there’s waaaaaayyy too much blood and stuff. From people getting hurt. And drugs. And ****’d words. WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK!!! YOU LISTENING!???!!???

      The sad thing is that they use these cool and friendly ratings to sneak in the sometimes not-so-cool stuff that often makes shows too inappropriate even for such rating.

      They’re doing the best they can. Don’t give ‘em slack.

    4. Kevin J. Alexander
      April 8, 2016 at 9:31 am

      Well done Tim and PTC team. It surely will not change for the better without strong advocates like you and the Parents Television Council. It’s worth fighting for and we can’t thank you enough for engaging in this battle. Keep up the good work!

    5. Carri Pratt
      April 7, 2016 at 7:22 am

      I strongly agree! How does the average American mom become involved in promoting such critically needed reform?

      • Justin
        April 26, 2016 at 7:48 am

        You can start by signing up for One Million Moms emails. http://onemillionmoms.com/

        They actually have a lot of success doing campaigns to get advertisers to stop sponsoring offensive shows, and even getting offensive shows canceled.

        I’m an active member and I’m a male and not even a parent.

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