Analysis: A job for government?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Sept. 23, 2004 at 5:12 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. parents strongly favor government regulation of sex and violence on TV, but most parents don't use tools already at their disposal to regulate their own children's viewing, according to a report by the Henry Kaiser J. Family Foundation.

The organization reported Thursday on results of a survey that showed 60 percent of parents say they are very concerned about sexual content on TV and 53 percent say they are very concerned about violent content. Nearly two-thirds of those parents, 63 percent, said they support new government regulations limiting the amount of sexual and violent content on TV during early evenings hours, while 35 percent said they would oppose that sort of regulation.

The study came out one day after the FCC imposed record fines on CBS-owned-and-operated TV stations for televising Janet Jackson's bare breast during the halftime show at the Super Bowl last February -- an incident that only 17 percent of those surveyed said they were very concerned about.

Overall though, Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health, told United Press International the survey illustrates growing concern among parents about the media their children consume.

"Here we are, a day after the FCC issued its fines in the Janet Jackson case, but beyond that one sort of fleeting incident there's a much broader set of issues that impact families even more -- sexual content, violence, even obesity," said Rideout. "They've gotten to the point now where they support some sort of government regulation, which is something they have not supported in the past."

The Kaiser survey found that parents were much more concerned about content on TV than in other media. While 34 percent said TV is their greatest concern, 16 percent said Internet content concerned them most, followed by movies (10 percent), music (7 percent) and video games (5 percent).

Half of those parents surveyed said they use the TV ratings system to help guide their children's viewing, but only one in four said they use the system often.

Nearly five years after the V-Chip became standard equipment on many new TV sets, 61 percent of parents who use the technology to regulate their children's viewing choices said they find it useful. But 15 percent of parents report using the device, 39 percent don't even know whether their sets have the V-Chip, and 42 percent of those who know their sets have the device said they actually use it.

Just 6 percent of parents with children under 2 even know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV viewing at all for children that age.

The findings may suggest that significant numbers of parents want government regulators to do something that the parents won't -- or can't -- do.

"There certainly is a disconnect that needs to be looked at between the level of concern that parents express and the actions that they take, including putting TVs in their kids' bedrooms," said Rideout.

Jim Steyer, founder and chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based, non-partisan organization Common Sense Media, told UPI there probably are parents who want the government to take care of the problem, as well as parents who want regulators to control what other people's children watch. But he said most parents don't fall into either of those categories.

"The great majority just want to be better parents," he said.

Steyer, whose organization ( helps families make informed media-consumption choices, said parents need to go beyond V-Chips and ratings systems and become personally involved in their kids' media consumption.

"The V-Chip will never be a substitute for good honest dialogue between parents and their kids," he said. "Ratings are not a substitute for good healthy communication."

Although Rideout and Steyer agree on the importance of hands-on parent involvement, both also said that TV programmers -- networks, producers and local station managers -- bear a major share of responsibility for the effects that content can have on consumers.

"Our environment is increasingly defined by media," said Rideout. "Granted, some parents will complain and then not do enough about it on their own, but they deserve a helping hand."

Television programmers have to perform a difficult balancing act, catering to a spectrum of viewer taste that runs from a preference for the tasteless to intense rejection of content that is even moderately naughty. Objective standards are elusive.

Steyer suggested that the TV industry reach out more to help inform parents about the availability of V-Chips, ratings systems and other resources that can help them make smarter media-consumption choices.

"They're making a lot of money off of the airwaves," he said.


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