After just a few minutes of channel surfing, it’s probably become relatively easy to understand President Hinckley’s concern that many of the television and movie choices we are given have become, “an open appeal to witness that which is debauching, that which leads to violence and illicit sex (Ensign, September 2004).”
Television content is intensifying its portrayal of what President Hinckley succinctly refers to as “debauching habits and behavior.” For example, programming during the 8:00 P.M. hour had 41 percent more depictions of violence in 2002 than in 1998; episodes during the 9:00 P.M. hour were 134 percent more frequent. In a 2004 study done on 114.5 hours of “reality television,” there were 1,135 instances of foul language, 492 instances of sex, and 30 violent incidences. This means that to edit that content you would have to plug your ears or close your eyes every 4 minutes.
Damage to our society is being done. As, President Hinckley said, “I am satisfied that there is no need to stand still and let the filth and violence overwhelm us or to run in despair…the challenge to oppose this evil is one from which members of the Church of Jesus Christ, as citizens, cannot shirk.” He goes on to say that, “the sad fact is that the minority…make their voices heard until those in our legislatures may come to believe that what they say represents the will of the majority. We are not likely to get that which we do not speak up for.”
However, media can be a very positive and powerful force. President Hinckley has reminded us repeatedly on what a remarkable age it is that in which we live and of the blessings that media and modern communication bring to our lives. We do not need to be anti-TV, just pro-TV management. Almost since the beginning of television there have been concerns about program content violating community standards. Those concerns are stronger today than ever.
It’s Up to Us
Contending with those concerns has two problems. First, there are no laws that prohibit or restrict depictions of violence on television. Indecent and obscene material has set parameters and boundaries that have been established legally. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which enforces those laws does not monitor broadcasts, it only analyzes complaints. Which brings us to the second problem. The burden of proof that indecent or obscene material was broadcast is entirely on the viewer or listener. The FCC will never fine a broadcast station without first receiving complaints. It is, therefore, up to us to curtail inappropriate programming.
According to the FCC website (www.fcc.gov), these are the qualifications of obscene speech:
• An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
• The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
• The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
The site defines indecency as “language or material that in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
These broad definitions, which rely on phrases like reasonable person, contemporary community standard, patently offensive, and sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law, coupled with the minimal number of complaints that the FCC actually receives, are the factors that essentially allow broadcasters to change and define the laws themselves.
If no one complains, legal and common sense precedence will be set. It will be assumed that we, the general public, are in full agreement, endorsing and accepting of what is being broadcast.
The responsibility is solely on us as the viewer to define what offends us. If no one complains, incidences and violence, which portray those “debauching habits and behaviors,” will increase unchecked.
Where to Begin
There are millions who recognize the detrimental power of popular culture and feel powerless to stop it. Yet Church leaders have entreated us to proceed with this undertaking. There are several ways to follow President Hinckley’s instruction to “Rise, and stand upon thy feet and speak up for truth and goodness and decency and virtue.”
Begin at a local level. Affiliate stations do have autonomy from the networks. If you complain to your local station’s general manager, explaining that the program content does not agree with local community standards, he or she may pull the program voluntarily. The perception “contemporary community standards” is easier to characterize when it is referring to a local community. You might want to remind the station manager that federal broadcasting regulations allow local stations to substitute programming. Under CFR Title 47, Section 73.658(e), affiliates have the right to reject network programming, which they “reasonably believe to be unsatisfactory or contrary to the public interest.”
Often when a questionable movie or program is run, a network will cover any fines incurred by its affiliates. Most networks usually view fines as simply part of running the business. However, there are additional FCC sanctions from which they cannot protect the smaller stations and these are what those station managers are worried about, (especially if you let them know that a copy of the complaint they are receiving has been sent to the FCC as well).
Send a complaint to the FCC. When a complaint is received it is reviewed to determine if there has been a violation of the obscenity, profanity, or indecency laws. If it appears a violation has occurred, a letter of inquiry is sent to the broadcast station to begin an investigation. The context and wording of these written complaints is essential; please see “Filing Your Complaint” to learn how to make your letter appropriate and effective.
Only as people become more aware of the procedure and participate in the complaint process will results begin to occur. In 2000, the FCC received 111 complaints about 101 TV and radio shows. In 2003, 240,350 complaints were received for about 318 programs. In January and February of 2004, 530,828 complaints were filed regarding the Super Bowl halftime show. FCC Chairman Michael Powell told convention attendees at the April National Association of Broadcasters that he had, “little choice but to respond to people who ‘spam’ him with complaints.” This may be what is required to enforce standards in the media.
Hitting Where it Hurts
The biggest impact on broadcasters is through their sponsors. If advertisers are complained to or an organized boycott of their goods and services is initiated, they will frequently pull their advertising, reducing the shows funding. This can be a double-edged sword however, because if too much fuss is made over a specific program, people may begin to watch it just to see what the hubbub is all about, making an advertiser’s withdrawal a mute point because other promoters are more than happy to step in to fill the open time slots.
This approach has, however, made significant impacts without drawing unnecessary attention. For example, in November 2004, after having received letters of concern over the company’s advertisements during the program Life As We Know It, McCormick and LensCrafters sent a statement to One Million Moms and One Million Dads, two organizations involved in promoting family-friendly media, stating, “McCormick has taken steps to prevent any future advertising on this program” and “LensCrafters does not support programs promoting teen sex and will not be advertising on future broadcasts of this show.”
Similar statements and movements to pull advertising from various shows have come from companies like Kohl’s, Sharpie, LeapFrog, Hasbro, Kellogg, Tyson, Lowe’s, and Papa Johns (to name just a few). So, yes, letters do make a difference. To see other reports of pulled advertising, visit [onemilliondads.com] or [onemillionmoms.com].
Making a Personal Evaluation
Control the TV in your own home. The only thing Americans spend more hours per day doing than watching TV is sleeping. Millions of Americans are so addicted that their viewing habits meet the criteria for “substance abuse” in the American Psychiatric Association’s official manual. All this exposure has no alternative but to affect the way our society functions.
According to a recent Common Sense Media survey, approximately 9 out of 10 American parents believe today’s media contribute to children becoming too materialistic (90 percent), using more coarse and vulgar language (90 percent), engaging in sexual activity at younger ages (89 percent), experiencing a loss of innocence too early (88 percent), and behaving in violent or anti-social ways (85 percent). The majority of parents believe that media negatively affect their own children in these ways.
As parents we must set firm standards in our homes. Pay attention to the TV ratings. Use the V-chip in your set—most newly manufactured sets have one installed. If you do not have a V-chip, the cable company can block individual stations from coming into your home. Use the VCR or TiVo. Know what your children are watching and know what their friends are watching. Don’t channel surf. Don’t let the TV become background noise.
Making Your Voice Heard Nationally
Contact your state representatives. The current political climate is perfect to respond to President Hinckley’s call. Since the 2004 Super Bowl, momentum has been employed in Congress to make enforcing fines more meaningful and consistent. FCC complaints are at an all-time high. During the last session of congress, Senate bill 2056 proposed raising the allowable amount the FCC could fine from $32,500 to as much as $275,000 per indecent incident aired. House Resolution 298, after citing eleven justifications, required “that the Federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced throughout the United States.” We need to make our lawmakers aware, in the civil tones that President Hinckley has advised, that we require a higher standard in our media.
Television and other forms of electronic media are invited guests into our homes, yet far too few are willing to make that guest behave. So long as the advertising industry is willing to pay for slots on the programs, and people are willing to watch, broadcasters will be able to continue to push the envelope as far and as fast as they are able. The only way to slow and reverse the current trend is to push back with an equal or greater force.