Orgs urge parents to be the boss of kids' TV and film watching

Entertainment honchos are again resorting to their usual tactic whenever D.C. scrutinizes violent movies and TV shows: They are launching a public service campaign.

The first batch of TV ads are reruns of spots that originally ran in 2006. Unlike that earlier campaign, this will include blurbs on the bigscreen. But, despite the outcry after the shootings in Aurora and Newtown last year, videogames are not part of showbiz’s response.

The initiative, announced Wednesday, is sponsored by the MPAA, the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., the National Assn. of Theater Owners, the American Cable Assn., along with DirecTV and Verizon FiOS.

The CEO of parents org Common Sense Media James P. Steyer said that they “give credit to the entertainment industry for this proactive first step in acknowledging their role in creating content that contributes to the culture of violence in America.”

But he questioned why the videogame business was not included, although that industry is expected to launch its own public service campaign soon. In January, when Vice President Joseph Biden met with showbiz reps, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd requested that the meeting with TV and movie trade association chiefs and other officials be separate from the videogame industry, noting the interactive nature of gaming.

Steyer also worried that the industry effort “puts the onus entirely on parents to screen the media that their kids consume when 75% of America’s parents tell us that — ratings or no ratings — they have a hard time shielding their kids from viewing violent media.” He added that a “bigger issue” was the marketing of violent content to children.

This latest effort will include new PSAs in movie theaters, designed to educate parents about movie ratings, as well as a public service campaign on mental health, including “creating a style guide to help educate journalists, television and film producers, directors and writers on mental health terminology.” Broadcasters, the Associated Press, the Entertainment Industries Council and other orgs are involved in the campaign. There is no word yet on when those spots will appear.

Other parts of the movie-TV initiative include a redesign of the TheTVBoss.org website and a relaunch of FilmRatings.com. Messages will appear on social media and other digital platforms. The mental health campaign is being launched out of concerns over how mental illness is being portrayed by the media and in movies and TV shows.

“The public service advertising and collateral materials featured throughout the campaign will help consumers better understand the TV and film rating systems, remind them to ‘be the boss’ of their TVs, encourage them to consume media together as families, and help children understand the media they consume,” the orgs said in a statement.

No dollar figure was given on the cost of TV time for the public service spots. When the campaign was launched in 2006, the cost of ad time was estimated to be $300 million.

In 2006, Congress pressured the industry on indecent content on TV. To counter that, networks aired humorous spots created by the Ad Council showing parents they could “be the boss” of what comes into their homes by utilizing content ratings and V-chip blocking technology.

One spot features a mother telling a man wielding a chainsaw in her dining room that she’ll have to “block” him; another shows a mother telling a group of mobsters in her living room that she will block them. A spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters said that the campaign was revived in part because of the lag time involved in producing new spots.

Violence in media has been under a new level of scrutiny ever since the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December reignited a national conversation about violence in society. Court decisions have made it clear there is little the government can do to regulate violence and conform to the First Amendment, but industry officials are wary of being scapegoated in a debate that has generally centered on access to guns and other firearms laws.

When President Obama announced proposals to limit gun violence, one recommendation was a study of the effect of violence videogames and other “media images” on children, but there is likely to be greater criticism as Capitol Hill lawmakers debate the proposals and hold a series of hearings.

On Wednesday, Sandy Adams, a former Florida congressman, pointed to videogame and movie violence in prepared testimony to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “I believe the combination of violent videogames to violent movies, the desensitizing of death, blood and gore in their every day lives is only making the culture more violent,” she said. A Republican, she argued against stricter gun laws, saying citizens should not be limited in how they defend themselves.

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