TV rating system a failure; children exposed to explicit content without warning

WASHINGTON — Parents relying on the television ratings system to block objectionable content from their children might want to reconsider its usefulness, according to a new study that finds TV programs often include explicit content without the proper warning and that TV-PG programming has explicit content every five and a half minutes.

The study by the Parents Television Council (PTC) examined all primetime programming for the four major broadcast networks during the first two weeks of the November 2011 sweeps period.

PTC found that:
• 44 percent of the instances of explicit content on TV-PG programming did not include the needed descriptor — "L" (language), "D" (suggestive dialogue), "S" (sexual situations) or "V" (violence).

• Primetime programming includes so much explicit content during TV-PG shows that a child would have been exposed to such content every five and a half minutes.

The study was the sixth by the PTC looking at the ratings system, which when accompanied by a V-Chip-equipped TV, can block certain programs. But this study, as well as the previous ones, showed the ratings system to be inadequate. TV programmers rate their own content.

The latest study examined only TV-PG content.

"The question we wanted to ask is this: If a diligent parent employs the V-Chip to ensure only TV-PG rated content can be consumed by their child, what type of content will that child be able to consume?" the study's authors asked in their report.

Tim Winter, president of the PTC, said the ratings system is broken and needs to be fixed.

"For years the broadcast industry and their agents have touted the V-Chip and the content ratings system as the public's remedy for harmful, offensive and explicit programming," Winter said in a statement. "The findings of [the] report suggest that the industry 'remedy' is a failure. Even the most diligent parent who only allows TV-PG rated content into their home would be exposing their children unwittingly to a torrent of sex, violence and profanity on a nightly basis."

Winter added, "As we approach the 15-year anniversary of the ratings system, it is apparent that the system itself is in need of dramatic reform. Broadcast networks produce and rate their own content, leaving parents with a deeply flawed and largely inaccurate ratings system. An accurate and accountable system would steer informed families and many advertisers away from harsh content, costing the networks a material loss in revenue. This is a clear conflict of interest, and it further emphasizes that the V-chip is not a reasonable alternative to broadcast decency rules that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court."

The Parents Television Council, Winter said, is "calling on the Congress, the FCC and the television industry to address the failures" of the ratings system and replace it with one that is "accurate, consistent, transparent and accountable."

With the V-Chip providing only limited help for parents, some companies have tried to fill the void with their own products. One company, TVGuardian, sells a unit that mutes profanity on broadcast television. The TV Guardian console mutes the profanity by monitoring closed captioning. Another company, ClearPlay, sells a DVD player that mutes bad language and also skips objectionable scenes. While that doesn't help with broadcast TV, it does offer a solution for those willing to wait until their favorite programs are released on DVD.

Read the full PTC report at www.ParentsTV.org.