A lengthy new report from the nation’s leading nonpartisan family television watchdog group indicates a large increase over the last decade in the amount of violence and profanity in television shows rated as appropriate for children.
The Parents Television Council on Tuesday released its 10th report on the television content rating system in the United States, something that the PTC has for years called for reform of on grounds that the system is deceiving parents on what content is suitable for children.
The report is over a decade in the making. PTC entertainment analysts recorded and documented every instance of violence, sexual dialogue, sexual actions and foul language on prime-time broadcast network television during the “sweeps” months of November, February, and May in 2007 and 2008.
PTC analysts did the same thing a decade later in the sweeps months of 2017 and 2018.
PTC’s research found a 28-percent increase in violence displayed in television content rated TV-PG in 2017 to 2018 compared to PG-rated programs analyzed during the years 2007 and 2008. During that same timespan, research shows a 43.5-percent increase in profanity on PG-rated shows.
Although TV-PG stands for “parental guidance recommended,” that is the same rating given to many classic Disney movies adored by children worldwide.
Programs rated as TV-14 contained on average 84 percent more violence per episode in 2017 to 2018 than they did in 2007 to 2008, according to the report. In total, the research suggests there was a 150-percent increase in violence and a 62-percent increase in profanity found in TV-14 rated programming over the last 10 years.
“In 2007-2008, there were more programs rated TV-PG  than programs rated TV-14 . In 2017-2018, the opposite was true [224 PG vs. 383 TV-14],” the report reads. “In February 2008, programs rated TV-PG outnumbered those rated TV-14 by more than 2-to-1; in February 2018, TV-14 content outnumbered PG content in almost the same ratio.”
Additionally, the report states that there were no G-rated shows — shows rated as “suitable for all ages” — on Fox, CW or ABC in any of the “sweeps” periods between 2007 to 2008 or 2017 to 2018.
“In its recent report to Congress on the accuracy of the TV ratings and effectiveness of oversight, the Federal Communications Commission noted that the system has not changed in over 20 years,” the PTC report adds. “Indeed, it has not but content has and the TV ratings fail to reflect ‘content creep.’”
PTC defines content creep as the “offensive content in programs with a given rating as compared to similarly-rated programs a decade or more ago.”
The organization said the networks have continued to test the limits on what kind of content is appropriate for children to be able to watch.
PTC believes the content rating system needs to be reformed and has criticized the fact that the networks themselves have much influence over the oversight board.
“Earlier this year, [FCC] was instructed by Congress to report on the accuracy of the TV ratings and the effectiveness of the oversight provided by TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board,” PTC President Tim Winter told reporters on a press call. “FCC’s report — produced after a public comment period — affirmed the numerous intrinsic failings of the content rating system that we have been sounding the alarm about for years.”
“The FCC’s report rightly notes that the vast majority of public comments it’s received came from individual consumers. It rightly notes that all of the commentators voiced concerns or dissatisfaction,” he added. “It rightly notes that the record suggests that a better job could be done. It rightly notes that concerns have been expressed about the system’s accuracy and merit additional action.”
PTC stresses, however, that no additional action has been taken even though it’s been five months since the FCC submitted its report to Congress.
Although many have called for reform of the rating system, PTC says the entertainment industry has “consistently defied public calls for reform.”
“Since that time, the industry has done absolutely nothing,” Winter said. “If left to the industry’s own devices, nothing will be done.”
PTC stresses that the current system is outdated because it came “half a generation before Google, Netflix, or the iPhone.”
“It has undergone no changes whatsoever … and the entertainment industry maintains that no changes or updates are necessary,” the report reads.
“Indeed, in meetings with the FCC’s Media Bureau and in public comments posted on the FCC’s website, Hollywood lobbyists argued against making the [monitoring board] more accessible and transparent to the public, and against making any improvements whatsoever to the current TV rating system.”
Nell Minow, the founder of MovieMom.com, agreed.
“The issue here is not censorship,” she said. “We are not telling anybody what is a good show or what is a bad show. What we are trying to avoid is bad surprises. What we don’t want is for parents to turn on the television thinking that what is coming into their home … is what they would want to invite into their home and then finding out it is something else instead.”
Penny Nance, president of the conservative advocacy group Concerned Women for America, also called for a reform of the rating system.
“All we need to do is ask anyone — including the TV executives who produce the content — ‘Do you want your children watching this?’” Nance said on the press call. “We all agree there should be a rating system. Does anybody think that this works effectively? Does anybody think that anybody is overseeing it, to update it as needed? No one thinks that.”