WASHINGTON — A key senator suggested Wednesday that if networks don’t tone down the sex and violence in their shows, the FCC should consider the moral tone of programming as a factor when deciding renewals of television stations.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) made the statement at a press conference announcing a study that found that despite, or possibly because of, the implementation of a new TV content code, network programming has become sleazier and more violent, at least during the sweeps period. The study was conducted by the conservative media watchdog group Parents Television Council.
The Council study, which looked at the November sweeps programming in 1996, 1997 and 1998, found that last year was the sleaziest yet. “Plainly put, television is the raunchiest it has ever been in spite of, or perhaps because of, the ratings system.”
Shield for programmers
Council chairman Brent Bozell said Wednesday that the TV code provides a shield for programmers to create content with strong adult content. Once it has been rated, Bozell said, programmers feels free to push the envelope. “Sexual content, foul language and violent content combined rose by more than 30% from November 1996, just before the original ratings system was implemented, to November 1998,” Bozell said.
The study, titled “Unintended Consequences: With Ratings System in Place, TV More Offensive Than Ever” found during the 1998 November sweeps:
- NBC had had the worst language (averaging 2.81 bad words per hour);
- CBS had the most violence (averaging 2.18 violent incidents per hour);
- Fox had the most sex (averaging 7.33 sexual incidents per hour).
The report also found that of a total of 125.5 hours of sweeps programming in November, there were 439 sexual references or an average of 3-1/2 per hour. Also, there were 201 “incidences of foul language” or 1.60 per hour and 151 acts of violence or 1.20 per hour. The combined average of something violent, lewd or crude happening per hour was 6.30.
Lieberman had nothing but praise for the study. “The study we release today should remind us that the problems with our culture, and the concerns of our parents about its corrosive influence, go much deeper than the question of violence, and extend to the larger vision of values that the entertainment media presents and promotes to our children, which is helping to eat away at the boundaries between right and wrong, and feed an anything goes mind-set in our society.”