PTC says TV profanity increasing, watchdog pushes back


Decency watchdog Parents Television Council says that there has been a 69% increase in profanity during television prime time hours over the last five years, saying among other things that it is a predictable result of court rulings upholding the creative community’s attack against broadcast decency. But watchdog TV Watch says PTC’s questionable credibility makes it hard to lend any credence to their study.

To agree with the results of PTC’s study, one thing one must do is agree with their list of profanities. Bleeped words are part of the list. According to PTC, “Use of the bleeped or muted f-words increased from 11 instances total in 2005 to 276 instances in 2010 – an increase of 2409%;” and “Use of the bleeped or muted s-word increased from 11 instances in 2005 to 95 instances in 2010 – an increase of 763%.” PTC also totals up euphisms for f-bombs and s-bombs – adding 41 and 7 instances to the 2010 total of 1,438, which it says was up from 849 in 2005.

Damn and hell also make the list, and while they may have been verboten back in the 1950s, it is highly debatable as to whether or not they should be included on such a list now — and we wonder, would darn and heck make the euphemism list? Anyway, they account for 141 and 244 instances of profanity, or 27% of the total.

Other words on the list include crap, ass, bitch, bastard, boobs, “other breasts,” balls, “other genitals,” douche, piss, screw and suck.

PTC’s Tim Winter observed, After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the FCC’s congressionally-mandated authority to enforce the broadcast decency law, industry and media pundits predicted a sharp increase in the amount of profanity on television. Sadly, they were correct.”

Winter continued, “While broadcasters continue to claim that they can regulate themselves, this type of increase in profane words aired on scripted programming – not on live broadcasts that are the subject of ongoing judicial review – suggests otherwise. Are we to expect a 69 percent increase in TV profanity every five years? Regardless of what the courts decide, it’s time for broadcasters to set parameters and publicly explain their broadcast standards. Advertisers must also ensure that the language they help bring into our living rooms is consistent with their hard-earned corporate brands.”

TV Watch noted a recent report concerning PTC’s problems with a former employee who alleges the organization routinely inflates its membership to increase donorship and influence. Jim Dyke commented, “Given all of this, it’s not surprising that a review of the supporting documentation for the study calls in to serious question both its methodology and findings.”

Dyke concluded, “All of this confirms the TV Watch position that in the third of households with children, parents should make the decisions about children’s viewing and enforce those decisions with available technology if they choose as all others are suspect.”

RBR-TVBR observation: The court trouble that decency regulation has come from putting the biggest regulatory over-reach (the unilateral, process-skipping change in the FCC’s fleeting indecency policy) first on the docket. It has been in the course of litigating that sub-issue that the whole regime has come into question. Perhaps those who wish to start swinging that $325,000 fine around like a giant decency club would have had better luck if they could have established their basic legal ground to do so at the outset of prolonged litigation, rather than try to establish the least defensible position first.

The PRC study did not include live programming, and with that in mind, notice the sleight of hand contained in this comment: “…this type of increase in profane words aired on scripted programming…”

We’d be willing to bet that a heaping helping of the incidents recorded in the PTC study occurred during reality programming. Not live, but not “scripted” either. PTC misleads by making it seem like teams of writers are squirreled away deliberately inserting these words into their script when in fact they are more a product of the culture. You can blame the producers if you want, but you’d also have to rewrite the regulations to make bleeping a punishable offense.

As for our own personal choices, we find no entertainment whatsoever in a program in which only an occasional intelligible word pops out from amongst a series of raucous bleeps. We change the channel and do not ever go back to that program – an option readily available to PTC members as well.

Finally, on a cultural level, we could not help but be amused by the verb choice PTC made when discussing the court’s decency ruling. Did it hinder the FCC’s enforcement power? Eliminate it? Damage it? Harm it? Nullify it? Temporarily restrain it? What verb would you guess PTC would use to describe this event?

Have you made your guess yet? OK, here’s the quote:

“…in the wake of the Second Circuit Court’s castration of the FCC’s powers of enforcement…”

Castration then! Powerful word! Very strong visual and emotional baggage tied to that one! We guess when you spend all your time fretting about such language it must creep into your own.