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Watchdog Group Demands TV Ratings Overhaul

Organization calls out television executive tasked with monitoring their own industry

ABC's 'The Real O'Neals' is rated PG, but still features copious curse words, Photo via ABC
2 years ago

LOS ANGELES — The TV content ratings system consistently fails to protect children from adult fare and must be overhauled, a watchdog group said Monday.

A Parents Television Council study released Monday faulted the 20-year-old system over how shows are rated, who rates them and an alleged lack of transparency.

Young viewers routinely are exposed to graphic violence, explicit sex, profanity and other adult content in shows that are labeled as suitable for children, said Tim Winter, the group’s president.

That’s because of inherent flaws in the ratings system, he said, including the oversight board’s structure and the fact networks rate their own programs.

HBO's 'True Blood' is one of TV's risque banner bearers. Still via HBO

HBO’s ‘True Blood’ is one of TV’s risque banner bearers. Still via HBO

The 24-member TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board is made up largely of representatives from the broadcast networks and cable channels whose programs are subject to the ratings.

“No other oversight board is comprised of executives of the very industry it’s supposed to watchdog,” Winter said.

That leaves parents without reliable information to make choices and corporate advertisers supporting shows that may appear more family friendly than they are, he said.

The board did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment. The Federal Communications Commission, which in 1996 authorized the ratings system and monitoring board, declined comment.

“We don’t anticipate an eager response from the industry,” Winter said. “We are gearing up for some public outreach to the FCC and Capitol Hill (lawmakers) if there is no immediate” move toward change.

The new study focused on broadcast networks but the system’s flaws extend to cable TV, which uses the same ratings, he said.

Increasing consumer use of online viewing services such as Netflix and Hulu makes a universal and trustworthy system crucial, the report said.

The ratings system was adopted in conjunction with the so-called V-chip, required in all TV sets built since 2000 and which allows parents to block programming they deem objectionable by rating.

The outcome is a lack of broadcast shows rated TV-MA, for mature audiences, which major corporate sponsors would tend to shun, Winter said.

Instead, shows labeled TV-PG (with material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children) and TV-14 (material possibly unsuitable for children under 14) have multiplied, the study found.

No other oversight board is comprised of executives of the very industry it’s supposed to watchdog.”

-Tim Winter, Parents Television Council president

But those TV-PG and TV-14 shows do not live up to their billing, including bloody scenes of violence, sex and other questionable content, Winter said.

He cited “The Real O’Neals,” a new ABC family comedy, for an episode that used a string of profanities but which was labeled PG. ABC declined comment.

The study found that programs labeled TV-G and appropriate for all viewers have essentially been eliminated from prime-time TV, graphic content is increasing in amount and intensity and yet all broadcast TV content is rated as suitable for a 14-year-old.

Winter said the council is calling for a system that is accurate, consistent, transparent and accountable to the public.

“Right, now, it is none of those four things,” he said.


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