Information on Parents Television Council report, Dying to Entertain: Violence on Prime Time Television 1998 - 2006

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TV violence is surging, group says

A media watchdog study of broadcast networks finds incidents have risen 75% since 1998

Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2007
By Jim Puzzanghera

WASHINGTON - Violence on broadcast TV is approaching "epidemic proportions," surging 75% over the last six years while posing a threat to children that parents and government officials need to address, according to a major media watchdog study unveiled Wednesday.

The study by the Parents Television Council, titled "Dying to Entertain," said the 2005-06 season was the most violent since the group began tracking the issue in 1998. There were an average of 4.41 violent incidents each prime-time hour last season, based on the group's analysis of the first two weeks of the ratings sweeps periods.

Federal Communications Commission member Michael J. Copps, a longtime critic of TV violence, joined the group at a news conference Wednesday and warned broadcasters that the government might act if programming wasn't voluntarily toned down.

"People are concerned about this race to the bottom," he said. "They wonder if there even is a bottom. I do, too. If broadcasters do not step up to the plate and self-police, I don't think any of us should be surprised if Congress decides to step in."

Violence was defined broadly to include such scenes as car crashes and "gory autopsies." The Parents Television Council also said it counted in its total the bloody scenes and dead bodies aired on the increasing number of forensic and medical dramas, such as CBS' "CSI" franchise and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," because they showed the consequences of violence.

Overall violent incidents increased in every time slot and across all broadcast networks, according to the study. Violence jumped by 45% from 8 to 9 p.m., by 92% from 9 to 10 p.m. and by 167% from 10 to 11 p.m.

The FCC has been studying the issue for more than two years after pressure from Congress. Copps said he expected a report to be released soon. But Congress so far has shown no inclination to give the FCC authority to fine broadcasters for graphic or gratuitous violence the way it can for indecency.

A bill to grant that power failed to gain traction after it was introduced in 2005. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), now has more clout with Democrats in the majority in Congress. He plans to reintroduce the legislation and hopes that it will get a hearing in the next few months, said his spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi.

Broadcasters have noted there are more violent programs on cable TV and stress the use of blocking technology, such as the V-chip. Broadcasters and cable firms are in the midst of a $300-million campaign to educate parents about the technology.

"We're surprised that cable TV programming was not included in the PTC study, since broadcast TV is far less violent than 'Sopranos-like' programming found on cable," the National Assn. of Broadcasters said in a written statement. "NAB believes the best approach is to arm responsible parents with the tools needed to screen out shows that may be inappropriate for children, as opposed to censoring some of the most popular programming on television."

Parents Television Council President Timothy Winter said the V-chip was not the solution, calling TV ratings inconsistent.

But data he cited about rating inaccuracies were from a study done in 1998 by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Parents Television Council study did not determine whether the shows it found with violent incidents had correct ratings, said Melissa Caldwell, the group's senior director of programs.

The study builds on a similar 2003 report from the Parents Television Council. The new data come from an analysis of entertainment programs on the broadcast networks during the first two weeks of the November, February and May sweeps over the last three seasons.

During the 2005-06 season, guns were the weapon of choice, featured in 63% of violent scenes, the study found. A majority of violent scenes - 54% - featured either a death or an implied death. Increasingly, violence has become more central to plotlines and includes sexual elements, Winter said.

ABC showed the sharpest increase in the study, with violent incidents each prime-time hour more than tripling from an average of 0.93 in 1998 to 3.8 in the 2005-06 season. ABC officials said in a statement that they had not seen the report but were "confident that our extensive standards review of all of our programming insures acceptable content for our diverse viewing audiences."

ABC, however, had the lowest score among the four major broadcast networks last season. NBC topped the group with an average of 6.79 violent incidents per prime-time hour, followed by CBS at 5.56 and Fox at 3.84. The WB network had 3.52 violent incidents per hour and UPN had the best score at 0.86. WB was combined with UPN this year to form the CW network.

Winter urged action at all levels to prevent the negative psychological effect that studies had shown violent programming could have on children. He called on producers to cut down on the violence, network affiliates to refuse to air shows that were too graphic, advertisers to stay away from such programs and parents to be more aware of what their children were watching.

"We're not calling for a ban on anything," he said. "We're calling for some responsibility and restraint from the broadcasters."


TV violence more common, explicit

The Ledger
January 12, 2007
By Jerry Smith, Cox News Service

WASHINGTON - Despite studies linking it to aggressive behavior in children, television violence has become more frequent and graphic in recent years, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study, conducted by the Parents Television Council, found the number of violent scenes during prime-time programs has risen on all of the six major broadcast networks - ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB - since 1998.

An increasing number of violent scenes include a sexual element, it found.

The report highlighted the fall 2005 television season as one of the most violent in recent history, with 49 percent of all episodes in the study containing at least one instance of violence.

"Not only was there more on-screen violence than ever before," the study said, "but the discussions of violent crimes were more explicit, and the violence depicted was far more graphic than anything TV viewers had ever seen before."

The report, titled "Dying to Entertain," found that ABC, which had been the least-violent network during the 8 p.m. "Family Hour" eight years ago, showed the biggest spike in violent programming, tripling to 3.8 violent instances per hour.

In a statement, ABC said it had not reviewed the report but was "confident that our extensive standards review of all of our programming insures acceptable content for our diverse viewing audiences."

The study found 26 instances of violence in a one-hour episode of the ABC series "Night Stalker," which the network canceled last year after only one season due to low ratings.

Meanwhile, Fox, which had been the second-most violent network when the study began, had the smallest increase in violence of the networks, jumping only 12 percent to 3.84 instances of violence per hour.

The study reviewed programs during the first two weeks of the November, February and May "sweeps" weeks, when viewership is measured to help set advertising rates. It found violent scenes on all the networks had spiked 45 percent during the 8 p.m. hour, 92 percent during the 9 p.m. hour and 167 percent during the 10 p.m. hour.

The report details more than 30 scenes from various episodes to support its finding of a growing number of "graphic autopsy scenes, scenes depicting medical procedures and extensive torture sequences."

"Violence has shifted from being incidental to the story telling to being an integral part of the program," it said.

Moreover, a growing number of violent scenes from programs such as "Law and Order," "C.S.I." and "House" have featured story lines containing sexual violence in the last two years, the study found.

"Rapists, sexual predators and fetishists are cropping up with increasing frequency on prime-time programs," it said.

The effect of television violence has been the subject of extensive study in recent years, dating back to a 1972 U.S. surgeon general's report that found, "Televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society."

Most research has focused on whether a causal relationship exists between television violence and aggressive behavior in children.

In a 2002 study published in Science magazine, researchers at Columbia University found adolescents who watched more than three hours of television daily were more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as adults.

In 1996, responding to similar reports, the entertainment industry introduced electronic content filters called "V-chips," which are designed to help parents block objectionable programs.

But the report released Wednesday dismissed V-chips as a poor solution, citing a 2001 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found they were not being used on the vast majority of general audience shows containing sex, violence, or adult language.

The study also noted that while several lawmakers have proposed legislation to curb television violence, their measures have failed on First Amendment grounds.

The Parents Television Council, a national advocacy group seeking stricter standards on media content, called on advertisers and broadcast affiliates to play a more active role in reducing the frequency and explicitness of television violence.

But some child protection advocates oppose the idea of censoring such programs.

Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist and a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, said his preferred approach is to "create truer ratings.

"Just like a parent can look at the ingredients on a cereal box, we need more information for them to determine if a show is appropriate for their child," Brody said.


Parents slam TV for rise in violence

Significant reduction of violent acts requested

Variety
January 10, 2007
By William Triplett

A new report from the Parents Television Council slammed the TV industry for a dramatic increase in primetime violence over the last eight years, and a top federal regulator has joined a call for broadcasters to voluntarily reduce the amount of blood and guts or face the possibility of legislation. "Dying to Entertain: Violence on Primetime Broadcast TV, 1998-2006," compiled by the PTC and released Wednesday, reviewed almost 1,200 hours of programming during the November, February and May sweeps of the last three full broadcast seasons.

Report said violent acts increased in every timeslot and that, overall, the fall of 2005 "was one of the most violent in recent history, averaging 4.41 instances of violence per hour -- an increase of 75% since 1998."

According to a PTC official, a violent act was defined as at least a fist fight, counted as one instance no matter how long it lasted. But if the fight escalated into use of a weapon, it was counted as two instances.

Report did not address or account for the context in which violence occurred, whether it was seemingly gratuitous or integral to storyline. "The main thing is the sheer volume and graphic nature of the violence," a PTC official said at a press conference.

Body counts rise throughout the evening. Report said the 8 p.m. hour has seen a 45% increase in violent acts. The 9 p.m. hour was up 92%, the 10 p.m. hour up 167%.

Shows singled out included all three of the Eye's "CSI" dramas, NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" and "Medium" and Fox's "Prison Break" and "House."

ABC, which PTC once declared "the least violent network," experienced "the biggest increase in violent content during the family hour," report said. In 1998, the Alphabet net had "0.13 instances of violence per hour," but now the net is up to 2.23 instances per hour.

Peacock was tagged for "the biggest increase in violent content -- 635% -- during the 10 o'clock hour," from two instances per hour in 1998 to almost 15 in 2005-06.

Tim Winter, prexy of PTC, said the org is "not calling for a ban on violence. We just want some restraint on the part of broadcasters and advertisers" who support the programming.

FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who attended the press conference, said most parents "could be better stewards" of what their children watch on TV. But he added that industry reps should "come to some kind of consensus about what they can do -- and they can do a lot," mainly with regard to self-restraint.

"If broadcasters do not step up to the plate and self-police, I don't think any of us should be surprised if Congress decides to step in," he continued.

Winter said the V-chip was essentially ineffective.

Jeff McIntyre, senior legislative officer for the American Psychological Assn., said that with regard to the voluntary TV ratings system, "The industry has achieved the minimally required effort to keep Congress of its back."

McIntyre added it's "unequivocal" that the more children are exposed to any kind of environment, the more they absorb it and are influenced by it.

But critics contend that much research showing links between violent media content and children's behavior suffers from vague or inconsistent definitions of "violence" and "violent programming" and therefore is unreliable.

ABC responded to "Dying to Entertain" with a statement: "We have not yet reviewed the report but are confident that our extensive standards review of all of our programming insures acceptable content for our diverse viewing audiences."


ABC Defends Shows From PTC Violence Assault

Broadcasting and Cable
January 10, 2007
By John Eggerton

ABC, which the Parents Television Council said on Wednesday was the network that had shown the biggest increase in primetime violence since 1998, stands by its programming choices.

"We have not yet reviewed the report," said the network in a statement. "But we are confident that our extensive standards review of all of our programming insures acceptable content for our diverse viewing audiences."

There was plenty of violence to go around, according to PTC's study titled "Dying to Entertain." It was a content analysis--not a contextual one--of violence in the first two weeks of key sweeps for the 2002-2003 through 2005-2006 seasons.

PTC said in a Washington press conference Wednesday that the 2005-2006 season was the most violent since its last study in 1998 with a 75% increase in the number of violent instances.

For the 2006 season, NBC had the most violent incidences per hour at 6.79, up 83%.5% from the previous season. ABC had 3.8, but that was up 155%, said PTC, from the 2004-2005 season.

The WB had the greatest frequency of violence during the 8 to 9 p.m."Family Hour" and CBS had the most violent at 9-10p.m. (when CSI airs), and ABC producing the most violent at 10-11p.m., according to the PTC.

PTC President Tim Winter said that one "small silver lining" was that some of the violent shows--Night Stalker, for example--had already been cancelled. Winter said that the V-chip was not effective in controlling kids access to such shows, and that the industry needed to better police itself.

The definition of violence did not take into account whether the context celebrated or censured it. Melissa Caldwell, senior director of programs for PTC, said she could not remember a single "redeeming instance" among the over 1,100 hours of programming reviewed.

The range of programming considered violent was also broad. For example, ER was NBC's second most violent show in 2005-2006, according to PTC, though it conceded that it was in a category labeled "medical violence," with only 9% "general mayhem." But also considered violent was an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos featuring two girls fighting in which one "pulls some of the other girl's hair and puts it in her tricycle."

On hand to praise PTC was FCC Democrat Michael Copps, who referred to TV as a "vast violent wasteland," and said that both government and the industry needed to address the problem. He said he expected the FCC to release "in the near term" the long-overdue report on TV violence requested by Congress.

He also took the opportunity to tie the rise in violence on TV to media consolidation. He pointed to the "accompanying loss of local control and community checks and balances replaced too often with an always-on marketing plan of selling products to a particular demographic, on the assumption that this demographic will best respond when it is under a constant barrage of sex and violence."

Copps said there were legislators eying the violence issue, and that if the industry did not self-regulate, it should not be surprised to see Congress step in.

Shows on at 10 p.m would be protected if the FCC were ever to adopt an indecency-like harbor for violence, but Winter said PTC had several issues with violent shows on at that time. One, he said, was violent commercials for 10 p.m. shows that aired earlier in the day or in sports coverage. Another was the syndication of such shows--he mentioned Law & Order and CSI--in the afternoon. He also said there was a trickle-down effect to shows earlier in primetime.

He also pointed out that HBO's The Sopranos was debuting Wednesday night on basic cable with most of the violence intact.

A representative of the American Psychological Association was also on hand to lend support, saying there was clear evidence that media violence affects the behavior of children.

TV Watch, which the networks created to push the V-chip/ratings system, not surprisingly appeared to take issue with the V-chip critcism, though the e-mailed statement Wednesday did not mention the PTC or study by name.

"Activists in Washington who continue their push for increased government regulation of television content refuse to accept the advances in technology that allow parents to enforce the decisions they make about what their children should see on television," said Executive Director Tim Dyke. "They don't want Americans to know that parents have the tools to make informed decisions - and to enforce those decisions - because it would make their approach obsolete."


TV violence found to be more frequent, graphic

Washington Times
January 11, 2007
By Kara Rowland

America's children are being exposed to more dead bodies, fistfights and perverts than ever before, according to an analysis of violence on prime-time television released yesterday by the Parents Television Council.

Violent content from 8 to 11 p.m. on weekdays jumped 75 percent from 1998 to 2006, largely because of popular crime-solving shows and medical dramas such as "Law and Order" and "CSI," the Los Angeles nonprofit concluded in its report, titled "Dying to Entertain."

For its second such study, the group pored through 1,187.5 hours of prime-time entertainment programs on major broadcast networks from the first two weeks of the November, February and May sweeps periods during the 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. The analysis excluded movies, news programs and sports events.

The group, which lobbies against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, measured violence by tracking scenes that contained violent elements and counting the frequency of violence within each scene. For example, if a character were to pull out a gun during a fistfight and shoot someone, it would be recorded as two instances of violence.

CBS had the highest percentage of deaths portrayed on each of its shows during prime time. On all the networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN -- 54 percent of violent scenes depicted death or implied it.

Guns were involved in 63 percent of violent scenes, and knives featured in 15 percent.

At 309 percent, ABC had the biggest increase in violent content since 1998, which the group examined in its study released in 2002, ballooning from 0.93 instances of violence per hour to 3.80 instances during the 2005-06 season.

Fox had the smallest increase in violent content since 1998, a 12 percent rise to 3.84 instances per hour. NBC is America's most violent network, according to the numbers, with 6.79 violent instances each hour. CBS came in second at 5.56.

At the bottom of the list, UPN and the WB -- which in the fall combined to form the CW Television Network -- had 0.86 and 3.52 violent instances per prime time hour, respectively.

ABC's short-lived murder drama "Night Stalker" was the most violent program of the 2005-06 season, with 26 instances of violence in one hour. The series, in which an investigative reporter searches for his wife's killer, was canceled after six episodes.

"Despite the widespread consensus that TV violence is a significant problem, it has not only become more frequent, but more graphic in recent years," Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, told reporters yesterday at a press conference featuring Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps.

In addition, Mr. Winter noted, violent scenes are becoming increasingly sexual as rapes, sexual predators and characters with fetishes are popping up on prime time dramas.

The report cited an episode of "CSI" that aired on CBS at 9 p.m. in November 2004 in which a transsexual was mutilated and killed.

In another example, an episode of "Law and Order: Trial by Jury" that aired on NBC at 10 p.m. in April 2005 involved a young man who was arrested outside a bar catering to homosexuals and died in the custody of police officers, who raped him with a blunt instrument.

There is an absolute, objective consensus" that children exposed to violence on television are more likely to use violence to solve their problems and become desensitized to its consequences, said Jeff McIntyre, legislative and federal affairs officer at the American Psychological Association.

Mr. Winter said the V-chip -- an electronic chip that allows parents to block TV programming they deem unsuitable for children -- is not an effective tool to block violent content, and called on advertisers, broadcast affiliates and Congress to help reduce such programming.

"We're not calling for a ban on anything," he said, adding that even if most children are in bed by 10 p.m., increased violence in that time slot puts pressure on the 9 and 8 p.m. slots as well.

In addition, Mr. Winter criticized instances in which promotions for violent, late-night shows are shown earlier in the day, and when popular syndicated programs that may not be appropriate for children air in the daytime.

"If broadcasters do not step up to the plate and self-police, I don't think any of us should be surprised if Congress decides to step in," warned Mr. Copps. He said the Federal Communications Commission should "tee up some options" for lawmakers to consider but did not give a specific proposal.