PTC Slams Kids Shows

PTC Thursday released a study on children's TV, "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: A Content Analysis of Children's Television," purporting to show that kids TV is more violent than adult fare.

It is the group's first look at TV targeted to children, and its conclusion is that there is a "staggering" amount of violence and sexual innuendo. Sensitive to the criticism that "cartoony" violence is hardly a threat to the social fabric, the group also provided figures for violent incident totals that excluded anvils falling on Wile E. Coyote's head, for example.

With anvils included, PTC's study of programming on ABC, Fox, NBC, WB, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon before and after school and Saturday morning, found an average of 7.86 violent incidents per hour, or 6.30 incidents without anvils.

PTC contrasted that with the 4.71 instances of violence per hour they found across the six broadcast networks in a 2002 study.

The group identified Cartoon Network as the outlet with the biggest number of violent incidences, with ABC Family Channel getting the highest per-program score.

Cartoon Net responded to the study in a statement:

"While it's difficult to comment on a report that we have not yet had the opportunity to thoroughly review, we are confident that our Standards and Practices policies ensure that the programming on our air is age-appropriate. All of our shows undergo several reviews throughout the production process to make sure that they are suitable for their intended viewers.

"Additionally, since 1998, Cartoon Network has voluntarily labeled all of its programming with the industry-standard ratings to inform parents of the content of each show."

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said of the study: "I fear too many parents have an unjustified sense of security when they place their children in front of the television."

Brownback has been pushing a bill that would allocate $90 million for a five-year study on the effect of media on children. He was also author of a Senate version of a bill to toughen FCC content enforcement.

Brownback, who was at the press conference unveiling the study, said it was time to narrow the Senate version of an indecency bill to boosting fines for violators. That would square it with one already passed by the House.

An aide to Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said this week that he wants to bring up the bill for a vote this spring.

In the study, PTC also found 1.93 instances per hour of verbal aggression (yelling, insults, put-downs); 0.56 instances per hour of offensive language (excretory references or euphemisms for obscene language); 1.34 instances per hour of disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic attitudes and behaviors; 0.62 instances per hour of sexual content.

The study was of 443.5 hours of programming over a three-week period in summer 2005.

 Jim Dyke , executive director of TV Watch, the industry-backed online lobby for the TV ratings, V-chip and other non governmental content controls, wasn't impressed: "This group has a history of making sensational claims in order to push government control of content," he said. " Parents relying on ubiquitous and user-friendly technology, ratings information, and their own good judgment to manage TV is the best approach, not increased government control, regardless of whether the program is Yosemite Sam, the Road Runner or a scene from a show clearly intended for adults."

The study was released the same day that PTC and TiVO announced a new KidsZone function for the DVR that allows parents to limit recording to shows approved for kid viewing by PTC or family-friendly TV reviewer Common Sense Media, though parents could also set up their own list of approved shows.

The Parents Television Council has been a critic of the  V-chip and TV ratings system, which also allows parents to control their kids viewing. PTC Executive Director Tim Winter echoed that stance in a New York press conference Thursday announcing the TiVo initiative, calling the current ratings system a "sham."
PTC is also a critic of cable's attempt to address parental control through family tiers, with Winter saying they "are intentionally designed to fail."  PTC is among the groups calling for cable to unbundle its channels, and for the FCC to toughen its enforcement of content regulations on broadcasters.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.