Television

Children's programs are 'wolves in sheep's clothing': Parents Television Council, US

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MUMBAI: The Parents Television Council (PTC) in the United States is peeved at programming targetted at kids. And why not? Consider the dialogue given alongside from Disney's Sister, Sister cartoon series....

Lisa falls down and hurts her back while getting ready for her date. When Terrence gets there, he starts rubbing her back and Lisa moans and groans.

Lisa: “Have you ever done this before?”
Terrence: “Not with anyone as pretty as you.”
Lisa: “You have done this before!”

He feeds her a melon and then talks about choosing the best melon.

Terrence: “You gotta’ get real close (he moves closer) and feel it. Then you gotta smell it.
Lisa: “Mmmmm.”
Terrence: “Of course, the skin should be firm but supple.”
Lisa: “Just the way I like it.”
Terrence: “And it should want to give…”
Lisa: “Oh, it wants to give.”

Keeping in mind content like this that has traces of sexual content falling into a number of categories, from references to pornography to innuendo; the PTC has released its first study on children’s television titled, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: A Content Analysis of Children’s Television.”

The study found that there was more violence on children’s entertainment programming than on adult-oriented television.

For this study, the PTC focused on entertainment programming for school-aged children aged 5 to10 on broadcast television and expanded basic cable. Eight networks – four broadcast and four cable – offer programming matching that criteria: ABC, Fox, NBC, WB, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.

The PTC focused its analysis on after-school and Saturday morning programming. The analysis covered a three-week period during the summer of 2005 for a total of 443.5 hours of children’s programming. The study did not include children’s educational programming.

Given below are the points that came out of the study:

3,488 incidents of violence for an average of 7.86 instances per hour. [Even when the innocent, “cartoony” violence (i.e. an anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote’s head) is extracted, there were still 2,794 instances of violence for an average of 6.30 instances per hour.
858 incidents of verbal aggression for an average of 1.93 instances per hour.
662 incidents of disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic attitudes and behaviors for an average of 1.49 instances per hour
275 incidents of sexual content for an average of 0.62 instances per hour
250 incidents of offensive language for an average of 0.56 instances per hour
Although Cartoon Network had the highest total number of violent incidents, the ABC Family Channel turned out to pack the most punch-per-program, with 318 instances of violence (only 11 of these could be considered “cartoon” violence) for an average of 10.96 violent incidents per episode.

The Disney Channel had the least-violent children’s programming with 0.95 incidents per episode.

On the other hand, the WB had the highest levels of offensive language, verbal abuse, sexual content and offensive/excretory references. Fox had the lowest frequency of this content.

During the study period Nickelodeon aired an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants entitled Sailor Mouth, the subject of which is foul language: Innocent Sponge Bob doesn’t understand the dirty word graffiti he sees on a dumpster but Patrick tells him it’s a “sentence enhancer” for when you want to talk fancy. The rest of the episode features Sponge Bob and Patrick using bleeped foul language [“f***,” “asshole,” etc]. The bleeps are made to sound like a dolphin which makes the whole thing seem humorous. At the end Sponge Bob and Patrick realize the words are bad and promise to never use them again but the episode ends with them telling Momma Krabs the 13 bad words Mr. Krabs has just said.

PTC president L. Brent Bozell said, “Parents often take it for granted that children’s programs are, by definition, child-friendly. While a lot of entertainment programming for children is perfectly wholesome, parents nevertheless have to worry about the part of it that isn’t appropriate.”

“This new study has found that the violence aimed towards little children is almost double compared to the levels of violent content directed towards families and adults during prime time hours. One might quickly dismiss violence in children’s programming as inconsequential, but what has changed is that the violence is ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases, frighteningly realistic,” he added.

“In addition, one of the more disturbing trends in this study was the amount of adult-oriented subtext that was laced throughout both the animated and live-action programs. Sadly, producers must think that if they can entertain parents with double entendres and innuendo the parents will encourage the children to watch. The downward spiral of children’s television must stop. Broadcast and cable networks must be held accountable for allowing such inappropriate content to corrupt our children. We must also hold advertisers responsible for underwriting these messages,” Bozell concluded.

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