• Is TV Still True to Its Principles?

    by  • July 31, 2017 • Broadcast Decency • 2 Comments

    The content of many TV shows today says “no.”

    At a time when it faces competition not only from cable and satellite, but also from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, broadcast TV remains the most important source of news and entertainment, said Gordon Smith, President of the National Association of Broadcasters, in a recent speech. Smith noted that “Even in this era of unprecedented competition for eyeballs, broadcast TV airs 90 of the top 100 most-watched television shows every week.”

    In his speech at the NAB’s annual convention, Smith also boasted that “Broadcasters carry the torch of freedom and integrity, and we must use this to question those in power, to expose those who abuse their positions and to find the truth.” However, TV doesn’t seem interested in examining one group that “abuses their position” and power: broadcasters themselves.

    Every time networks or stations have been fined for violating laws against broadcasting indecent content, the TV industry never simply pays the fine, apologizes, and cleans up its act. Instead, the standard operating procedure in TV is to battle the fine in court, with some cases dragging on for over a decade; and often, the networks counter-sue the Federal Communications Commission in the bargain. And all the while, they continue to use the airwaves owned by the American people to push ever-more profanity, sexual content, and graphic violence at teens and children in prime-time – usually on programs that have been incorrectly rated by the broadcasters themselves.

    In the 1990s, the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a “Statement of Principles” which stated that “Each broadcaster should exercise responsible and careful judgement in the selection of material for broadcast…Great care should be paid to treatment and presentation, so as to avoid presentations purely for the purpose of sensationalism or to appeal to prurient interest or morbid curiosity. In scheduling programs of particular sensitivity, broadcasters should take account of the composition and the listening or viewing habits or their specific audiences. Scheduling generally should consider audience expectations and composition in various time periods.”

    Other specific guidelines subscribed to in the NAB’s Statement included:


    • “Violence, physical or psychological, should only be portrayed in a responsible manner and should not be used exploitatively…The use of violence for its own sake and the detailed dwelling upon brutality or physical agony, by sight or by sound, should be avoided.”


    • “Where significant child audience can be expected, particular care should be exercised when addressing sexual themes. Programming that purely panders to prurient or morbid interests should be avoided.”


    • “The use of illegal drugs or other substance abuse should not be encouraged or shown as socially desirable.”

    It is difficult to see how programs like NBC’s Law & Order: SVU (an entire series about child molesters), or Fox’s The Mick and Family Guy reflect these sentiments. But at least the networks can be sure of one thing: neither their fellow broadcasters nor the president of the NAB will ever call them out on their hypocrisy.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    2 Responses to Is TV Still True to Its Principles?

    1. Joe Pinner
      August 6, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      NAB rep said “First Amendment freedom of speech ” when I asked what had happened to the “high standards set by the NAB!”! As a broadcaster of over 60 years I found his response repulsive and unacceptable!

    2. August 6, 2017 at 10:43 am

      It is very sad that several TV stations will even try to lie about what they are doing that they know is wrong. Fox might be goof for sports, and sometimes some of their local news channels will even have a tax payer watchdog program. Here in St. Louis, we have one on Fox2 called “You Paid for It”. But then when the news, sports, and weather is over, then it is time to pick up the remote and tune to Science, INSP, or Nat Geo Wild. When a TV station or a radio station gets a ticket for breaking the indecency rule, they should pay. And it should signal them to take the sexually explicit show off the air and for the radio to not play anything sexual again. When good shows like “The Waltons”, “Hee Haw”, and “Leave it to Beaver” aired, there was no sex on TV. Eventhough that sex was caused The Walton family to go grow to the size as it did when it got to the later scenes, they never did air the sexual activity. Back then TV stations knew better not to air the sex stuff. Sex should be done in private. Not in front of a TV camera or have someone broadcast stuff about it on the radio. In music, back when Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were living, there were no sexually activity added to the lyrics of their songs. Even though that Bach’s family grew big time and that was caused by sex, but J.S. Bach never added any of that into his songs. The 1950s was about the last time songs were clean. Now we can thank those who have YouTube accounts that has saved some of these old classic TV shows that were nice and clean and are now putting them on their public channels. So that way we can all relive the days of when entertainment was much cleaner.

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