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The Parents Television Council (PTC) is an American interest group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III in 1995. Through publications on its website including reviews, research reports, and online newsletters, the Council seeks to inform parents of television programs or other entertainment products that it considers beneficial or harmful to the development of children . Campaigns run by the Council include allowing subscribers to select and pay for only the cable channels that they prefer to watch, holding advertisers accountable for the television programs that they sponsor, and trying to keep children from watching television content they deem to be harmful and negative.

Over the years, the PTC has launched several campaigns in response to perceived indecency on television programs. Such campaigns have also involved filing complaints with the FCC, and the organization has generated the majority of FCC complaints over perceived indecent television content. Programs for which it has filed complaints and later deemed indecent by the FCC include NYPD Blue, the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, and Without a Trace. Beyond television programs themselves, PTC's activism has spread to urging advertisers to withdraw sponsorship from programs that the group deems offensive, criticizing companies for offensive advertising, and advising on other branches of entertainment media.

In response to its activism, positions, and campaigns, the PTC has faced much support and criticism. Since the PTC was found in 2004 to have filed the majority of complaints with the FCC, some have questioned the PTC's method of filing electronic complaint forms. Additionally, critics have objected to PTC's advocacy of greater government involvement in indecency regulation.

Foundation

Steve Allen, former host of The Tonight Show, was PTC's Honorary Chairman and a member of its Advisory Board.
In 1989, the Media Research Center (MRC) began monitoring the entertainment industry for alleged liberal bias through its Entertainment Division and newsletter TV, etc. MRC founder and president L. Brent Bozell III later felt that decency was declining on most prime-time television programming. The PTC began operations in 1995 following private planning meetings with Charlton Heston, Michael Medved, and other entertainment industry leaders, who would eventually make up the Advisory Board of the PTC. After the release of its first annual Family Guide to Prime-Time Television following the 1995-1996 television season, the PTC hoped to hold the entertainment industry accountable for the indecency that it perceived to be prominent on prime-time television. By 1996, the organization had the support of several members of the U.S. Congress, including Joe Lieberman and Lamar S. Smith, and an estimated annual budget of $142,000.

By 1998, with an estimated membership of 120,000, comedian and former Tonight Show host Steve Allen joined PTC as its Honorary Chairman, and PTC released a report questioning the accuracy of the TV Parental Guidelines ratings system and campaigning for advertisers to stop sponsoring programs that the PTC claimed were offensive. Allen launched a newspaper advertisement campaign promoting the PTC, which was published in many outlets including The New York Times. The PTC was noted for criticizing such shows as Ally McBeal, Dawson's Creekmarker, Ellen, Friends, and Spin City. Its website was also introduced that year, and its annual budget had already surpassed $1 million. PTC rolled out another round of full-page newspaper advertisements in 1999; San Francisco Examiner television columnist Tim Goodman perceived Allen and the PTC of advocating complete censorship of television to allow only what PTC considered "Family-Safe TV".

PTC was founded in 1995 by longtime political activist L. Brent Bozell III. Bozell is a prominent conservative activist who has, among other things, served as Executive Director of the Conservative Victory Committee, a political action committee that has supported the election of dozens of conservative candidates over the past ten years. He was also National Finance Chairman for Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign, and later president of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Bozell was succeeded as PTC President by Timothy F. Winter, a self-described liberal and registered Democrat, in January 2007. Winter served as Executive Director of the PTC for three years prior to becoming president. Prior to joining the PTC, Mr. Winter's 20-year career as a media executive included positions with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and NBC. Dan Isett, Director of Corporate and Government Affairs of the PTC, represents the PTC on the Consumer Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission.

The PTC also has an Advisory Board consisting of politicians and entertainers working to assist the council in their goal of protecting children against profanity and violence in the media. Notable members of the advisory board include singer Pat Boone, former football player Mel Renfro, actor Coleman Luck, country musician Billy Ray Cyrus, Republican U.S. Senator of Kansasmarker and former presidential candidate Sam Brownback, film critic Michael Medved, star of 1980s TV series Dallas Susan Howard, and ION Television producer Gary Johnson. In addition, the PTC has established numerous local chapters for most American media markets. Notable former Advisory Board members include - both of whom are now deceased - comedian Steve Allen, original host of NBC's The Tonight Show, and C. Delores Tucker, participant in the Civil Rights Movement and activist against gangsta rap music; Allen is now given the title of National Honorary Chairman-Emiritus. Bahçeşehir University associate professor Christian Christiansen questioned the backgrounds of certain PTC advisory board members as not consistent with their stance on morality.

Publications

Columns & reports

The website of the PTC features reports on what they find to be harmful content on television and regular writings from its staff. Their research is done with the support of their Entertainment Tracking System, an archive of prime-time television programming that they claim is the largest in the world. Such publications include:
  • "Culture Watch" - Throughout 2005 and 2006, the PTC published columns under this series authored by Christopher Gildemeister, covering the influence on American culture by entertainment as well as exposing the increase in sex, violence, and profanity in cable television and the methods used by advertisers and broadcasting companies to attract young audiences. In a December 2005 column of his, Advertising Age columnist Simon Dumenco claimed that the PTC is "very very afraid of gay TV characters". Culture Watch columnist Christopher Gildemeister defended the PTC as being "not homophobic" but simply opposed to "sexual references or innuendo (of any variety, hetero, homo or other) aired where children might be exposed to them."
  • "Parenting and the Media" authored by Rod Gustafson, where he offers advice on parenting children who frequent the media.
  • "TV Trends" - Another column by Christopher Gildemeister, published since October 2007 intending to inform parents and TV viewers in general about what he perceives to be "harmful or questionable prime-time programming.". Hartford Courant television critic Roger Catlin quoted Gildemeister as criticizing ABC for having an "apparent fetish for transsexuals" in certain programs.
  • Former president Bozell's weekly entertainment column, which it links to within the home page


In 2000, PTC's report What a Difference a Decade Makes observed an increase in profanity, sex, and violence on television during the 1990s. The report also claimed that references to homosexuality increased the most during that decade, by 24-fold. In a 2006 report titled Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, analyst Kristen Fyfe perceived an increase in violent, profane, and sexual content in children's programming. Among its results, based on research during summer 2005, Teen Titans was the most violent program, and Cartoon Network had the most violent incidents. Richard Huff of the New York Daily News criticized the report for misinterpreting an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, "Sailor Mouth", over its intent to satirize profanity implicitly.

Following the 2005–06 television season, PTC issued a report Faith in a Box that analyzed depictions of religion in primetime television. The study found that most positive references to religion were on reality shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, while scripted shows tended to be more negative towards it. The report also ranked Fox as the "most anti-religious network", followed by NBC, UPN, ABC, CBS, and the WB. In 2008, PTC published a report titled Happily Never After, using analysis of several primetime shows early in the 2007-2008 television season to assert that extramarital sex is favored on television shows. Ian O'Doherty of the The Irish Independent asked regarding the PTC's marriage depiction study: "After all, would you rather watch people having fun or would you rather watch a realistic depiction of marriage, which...would simply be an hour of two people sullenly chewing their food, pausing occasionally only to throw each other filthies and occasionally grumbling under their breath how the biggest regret of their life was ever setting eyes on you and that their mother was right all along?" PTC released a report in October 2009 observing that prime-time television shows on broadcast networks had twice as many depictions of violence against women in 2009 than in 2004.

Entertainment reviews and analysis

The PTC's activities extend to evaluation, rating, and educating around broadcast TV programs according to a traffic light system across three categories of sex, violence and profanity, accumulating to an overall rating based on the ratings of these three categories. The guide has been in use since the 1995-1996 season using the traffic light system. In the PTC's definition of its traffic light system, green light indicates that the program is "appropriate for all ages", a yellow light indicates that the program is "appropriate for junior high schoolers and older", and a red light indicates that the program is "appropriate for adult audiences only"

Every television season since 1995–1996, the council has released a list of the best and worst prime-time television programs for family viewing. The PTC's website includes the guide from the 1996-97 season at the earliest. Starting with the 2005–2006 season, their list was based on their traffic light system as well as Nielsen Media Research ratings of viewership among children ages 2–17 of certain shows. Popular shows that have frequently been praised as the most family-friendly programs on television include George Lopez, 7th Heaven, Touched by an Angel, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, NBC Sunday Night Football, and Deal or No Deal. Popular shows frequently named "Worst of the Season" include American Dad, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Dawson's Creekmarker, The Drew Carey Show, Family Guy, Friends, The O.C., Spin City, That '70s Show and Will and Grace.

On a weekly basis, the PTC publishes reviews of what they consider to be the best and worst television programming for family viewing, authored by the various entertainment analysts at the council. Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, compared the PTC's frequent negative reviews of the series to "hate mail from Hitler". "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?", the title being a play on the title of Fox television series So You Think You Can Dance, is a weekly column the PTC began in July 2007 to claim that networks inaccurately rate their shows based on the TV Parental Guidelines, whether the network applied the improper age-based rating (such as TV-PG or TV-14) or failed to include the proper content descriptors (such as "L" for language or "V" for violence).

Seal of Approval

To recognize excellence in the media, the Parents Television Council awards its Seal of Approval to television shows, movies, home products, and advertisers that provide or sponsor content it deems to be "family-friendly". It is divided into two categories: Entertainment and Advertiser. Popular television shows that have been awarded include 7th Heaven, American Idol, The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, George Lopez, JAG, Reba, Smallville, Touched by an Angel, The West Wing, and Wonderful World of Disney. Also receiving the Entertainment Seal of Approval are products like TiVo's KidZone television filtering service, the Sky Angel Christian television service, and CleanFlicks.

Activism

WWE

In 1999, the PTC launched a campaign against the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), complaining that their SmackDown! program contained levels of sexuality and violence unbecoming prime time programming. In the campaign, Brent Bozell said that four children had been killed by peers emulating wrestling moves learned from the program. With these allegations, Bozell and various PTC members began meeting with representatives of the advertising departments of various companies that advertised on SmackDown! to persuade them to withdraw sponsorship. The PTC also suggested that between 30 and 40 of WWE's advertisers had pulled their commercials from WWF programming.

On November 9, 2000, WWE filed a lawsuit against the PTC in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that the PTC's statements were false and constituted defamation. WWE also filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the PTC for using clips from WWE programs in their promotional videos. The PTC filed for dismissal of the suit, but on May 24, 2001, U.S. district court Judge Denny Chin denied the PTC's motion on the basis that WWF's lawsuit had merit. PTC and WWE settled out of court and, as part of the settlement agreement, the PTC paid WWE $3.5 million USD and Bozell issued a public apology. The apology stated that it was wrong to blame WWE or any of its programs for the deaths of children and that the original statements had been based on what was later found to be false information designed by people close to the Lionel Tate case to blame the death of Tiffany Eunick on WWE.

Broadcast indecency

In 2003, the PTC unsuccessfully campaigned for the FCC to take action against the NBC television network in response to the use of the epithet "fuck" by Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2, during the network's January 2003 telecast of the Golden Globe Awards. Among an audience of nearly 20 million, the FCC received only 234 complaints, 217 of which came from the PTC. In October 2003, the FCC decided not to fine NBC because Bono's obscenity was ruled as fleeting and not describing sexual or excretory functions, the FCC's standard for fining a network for indecency. After the PTC filed an Application for Review to the FCC, in March 2004 the FCC decided that the epithet was indecent by law but still decided not to fine NBC; however, the ruling was to serve as a warning to networks that there would be a "zero tolerance" policy towards obscene language willfully used during the daytime. However, the PTC's complaints about profanity used by presenter Nicole Richie in December 10, 2003 broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards led the FCC to conclude that the language violated decency law.

PTC began attracting more attention after its complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy, in which one of performer Janet Jackson's nipple shielded breasts, was exposed for 9/16ths of a second. FCC chairman Michael Powell stated that the number of indecency complaints to the FCC had risen from 350 in the years 2000 and 2001, to 14,000 in 2002 and 240,000 in 2003. It was also found that the PTC had generated most of the indecency complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission. In July 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit voided the fine.

PTC campaigns led to a great increase in FCC-issued fines and received complaints compared to those from previous years.


After the halftime show, the PTC launched five more FCC complaint drives, starting March 2004 with an episode of Fox's That '70s Show titled "Happy Jack", which revolved around character Eric Forman being caught masturbating. The beginning of the 2004–2005 television season sparked four new campaigns, the first being against NBC's animated sitcom Father of the Pride for its "barrage of sexual innuendo and profanity" while being promoted "from the makers of Shrek", which would potentially attract children to watching the series. That campaign led to over 11,000 email complaints to the FCC. Later, shortly after CBS broadcast the epithet "fuck" during an airing of Big Brother 5, the PTC took action again, this time citing that CBS ignored a warning from the FCC that there would be zero tolerance toward unbleeped profanity. However, those complaints became moot when Viacom, then-owners of CBS, settled with the FCC for $3.5 million regarding all allegedly-indecent programming broadcast in the years around 2003 and 2004, including the Big Brother 5 episode in question. In March 2006, the FCC ruled that Father of the Pride was not indecent. Following were complaints about an October 2004 episode of ABC's short-lived sitcom Life As We Know It, due to its target audience being children and teenagers and the show being allegedly sexually charged.

The PTC started off 2005 with their campaign against the Without a Trace episode "Our Sons and Daughters", leading to CBS being fined for indecency in March 2006; the PTC objected to the depiction of teenagers participating in an orgy in that episode. CBS argued that the episode "featured an important and socially relevant storyline warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children". At the end of January 2005, the FCC rejected a set of complaints that PTC filed between October 2001 and February 2004 for allegedly indecent programs such as NBC's Friends, the WB's Gilmore Girls, and Fox's The Simpsons. FCC received complaints from the PTC in the summer over an unedited broadcast of the lyric "who the fuck are you?" in The Who's song "Who Are You" from the Live 8 concert broadcast July 2, 2005 on ABC stations in the East Coast.

In October 2007, PTC requested that the FCC deny broadcast license renewal for Salt Lake Citymarker CBS station KUTVmarker because they felt that the broadcast of the Without a Trace episode that was ruled indecent violated community standards and that CBS failed to take action to reduce indecent content following the FCC fines. Subsequently, CBS agreed to pay the FCC $300,000 to settle the KUTV license challenge.Starting from December 2007, the organization demanded that CBS cancel its plan to rebroadcast an edited version of the Showtime drama Dexter, whose title character was a serial killer and police forensics analyst, because it felt that the program would glorify murder even with the edits. By early February 2008, the Council claimed to have collected 17,000 complaints to CBS.

On January 25, 2008, the FCC proposed an estimated $1.4 million fine against ABC for a scene of female nudity in the NYPD Blue episode "Nude Awakening" aired on February 25, 2003. Because the episode aired outside of the indecency "safe harbor" in the Central and Mountain Time Zones, the fine applied only to ABC stations in those zones. The PTC praised the FCC's action. However, PTC president Winter condemned ABC's decision to appeal the fine in federal court. PTC has also criticized the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to void the FCC's fine for the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. TV series that the PTC has targeted for FCC complaints in 2008 have included NBC's Today morning show and CBS primetime programs Big Brother 10, Survivor: Gabon, and Two and a Half Men. Profanity was the main concern for Today and Big Brother 10, the extremely brief exposure of contestant Marcus Lehman's penis for Survivor: Gabon, and a "lap-dance" scene for Two and a Half Men. The PTC's first complaint in 2009 was over sexual content in an episode of Family Guy titled "Family Gay". Later in 2009, the PTC urged affiliates of The CW Television Network to pre-empt a Gossip Girl episode to be aired November 9; the episode would reportedly contain a threesome scene. In response to Adam Lambert's performance of his song "For Your Entertainment" at the end of the 2009 American Music Awards broadcast on ABC, PTC urged viewers to complain to the FCC if living in an area where the performance was shown before 10 p.m. local time. PTC complained that the performance contained a simulation of oral sex. Lambert's performance reportedly was broadcast around 11 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time, "outside the FCC's usual 6am-10pm time frame prohibiting the broadcast of indecent material". ABC also received about 1,500 telephoned complaints.

Advertising

In May 2005 Carl's Jr. introduced its "Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger" in a television advertisement featuring celebrity Paris Hilton in a swimsuit, soaping up a Bentley automobile while leaning on it, and then eating the burger. A similar ad with Hilton for Hardee's hamburger chain was aired in June 2005.The Parents Television Council and other media watchdog groups criticized the commercial for being shown during programs that were very likely to be watched by children. Melissa Caldwell, PTC research director, said, "This commercial is basically soft-core porn. The way she moves, the way she puts her finger in her mouth—it's very suggestive and very titillating." The group mobilized more than one million members to contact the restaurant chain and voice their concern and claimed that "[i]f this television commercial were to go unchallenged it would set a new standard for acceptable television commercial content. " Caldwell, then-president Bozell, and then-executive director Winter appeared on various news programs such as Good Morning America, Today, The Early Show, American Morning, and The O'Reilly Factor to discuss this issue. Andy Puzder, CEO of Carl's Jr., says the group needs to "get a life...This isn't Janet Jackson—there is no nipple shield in this," referring to the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. He continued, "There is no nudity, there is no sex act — it's a beautiful model in a swimsuit washing a car." In addition to featuring the ad on their web site, Carl's Jr. also set up another website playing a longer version of the commercial.

In September 2007, the PTC launched a campaign to get airlines in America to reduce the amount of "PG-13" and "R"-rated films shown as in-flight entertainment. Consequently, Heath Shuler, Democratic representative of North Carolinamarker, introduced the Family Friendly Flights Act of 2007 bill to require airlines to set aside "child-safe" viewing areas for families to sit in planes.

PTC accused television commercials for Hardee's "biscuit holes" food product of suggesting double entendres. The commercial featured consumers suggesting nicknames like "A-holes" and "B-holes" for the biscuit holes. Boddie-Noell Enterprises, which owned 350 Hardee's restaurants in four states, refused to show the ads in its respective markets. Ben Mayo Boddie, chairman of Boddie-Noell, wrote a letter to the PTC condemning the ads as well.

YouTube

Twice has the PTC targeted video-hosting website YouTube in its campaigns and statements. PTC called for NBC to reconsider uploading the uncensored clip of the Saturday Night Live novelty song "Dick in a Box" on NBC's site and YouTube channel. In 2008, the PTC released a report The "New" Tube: A Content Analysis of YouTube—the Most Popular Online Video Destination, which praised YouTube for filtering adult content but criticized the site for not filtering profanity and other explicit content from comments sections.

Viewpoints

On its website, PTC states that its mission is to "promote and restore responsibility to the entertainment industry", The PTC believes that the entertainment industry—not only television but also music, movies, and video games as well—and its sponsors share responsibility with parents for children's television viewing habits. It therefore believes that television is harming children through a perceived "gratuitous" amount of sex, violence, and profanity. Its activism has influenced the removal of potentially objectionable content from certain shows, such as the fourth season of the popular CBS crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Increased government regulation of broadcasting is another viewpoint supported by PTC. PTC considers itself nonpartisan; others have considered the PTC to be bipartisan or socially conservative. Robyn Blumner of the St. Petersburg Times called the PTC "the Gladys Kravitz of public advocacy" in a column of hers and believed the PTC supported a federal policy on broadcast decency she called "Big Nanny run amok".

V-Chip

Since the V-Chip was established in conjunction with the TV Parental Guidelines ratings system, PTC has frequently accused the guidelines of having inaccuracy and low standards. In 1997, PTC was twice as likely to rate a show with the toughest rating classification, "red light" in the PTC's case, and "TV-14" in the Guidelines. Bill Berkowitz quoted PTC president Bozell as stating, based on PTC research, that "the current ratings system and V-chip are failures." In response to a V-Chip advertising campaign in the summer of 2006, Bozell proposed instead that cable companies either apply FCC-style broadcast television standards or offer choice in ordering channels. Television Watch considers PTC's reporting on the V-chip inaccurate and ideologically charged.

Cable choice

The PTC is an avid supporter of "a la carte" cable television services to allow families to choose only the cable television channels that are appropriate for their children. Frequently, the Council has criticized programs on BET, Comedy Central, E!, FX, MTV, Spike, TNT, and VH1 because they claim some of the content aired on those channels are inappropriate for younger viewers. On the other side of the issue, the PTC has awarded its "Seal of Approval" to cable networks Disney Channel and Hallmark Channel for their original programs.

On June 14, 2007, United States Representatives Dan Lipinski (Democratic, Illinoismarker) and Jeff Fortenberry (Republican, Nebraskamarker) introduced into legislation the Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007, which intends to allow families to choose and pay for only the cable television channels that they want to watch. The PTC praised their decisions, citing several shows such as Rescue Me, The Sopranos and South Park. In September 2007, the PTC launched a new website, HowCableShouldBe.com, to allow cable customers to see how much they are paying for their monthly cable bill currently.

Music industry

In April 2008, PTC released The Rap on Rap, a study covering hip-hop and R&B music videos rotated on programs 106 & Park and Rap City, both shown on BET, and Sucker Free on MTV. PTC urged advertisers to withdraw sponsorship of those programs, whose videos PTC stated targeted children and teenagers "with adult content...once every 38 seconds". PTC also warned radio stations about playing the Britney Spears song "If U Seek Amy" over concerns it contained an audible use of an obscenity.

Controversies

It has been suggested by Americans for Freespeech in Entertainment and Media founder Clayton Ronso "When one group of otherwise insignificant people, the PTC, tries to hide behind and force their uber conservative Christian beliefs upon the population in its entirety, and no one stands aganst them, we lose. We lose our First Admendment rights of freespeech and expression. We lose our individual identity. We lose our freedom of the press. We simply lose, this the AmFrem, cannot and will not happen."

References



Citations

  1. "
  2. "Saving the World's Largest Archive of Prime-Time Television". Parents Television Council. Retrieved April 12, 2007.
  3. During the season when the episode aired, NYPD Blue was shown on ABC on Tuesdays, 10:00 P.M. (Eastern and Pacific Time Zones) and 9:00 P.M. in the Central and Mountain zones.



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