- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004


NEW YORK - Congress is on the case, and so are federal regulators, but legions of American parents already have reached a verdict: Much of what airs on television is not fit for their children.

Exasperation is widespread, but so is acknowledgment that the problem defies simple remedies such as fines or new filtering technology.

“Before I was a mom, I never thought I would have believed in any type of censorship — but when you have children, it changes everything,” said Alicia Burbank, a Snellville, Ga., mother with a 10-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

“Everything from soap operas to reality shows, you never know what you’re going to see, whether it’s appropriate,” she said. “I hate saying this — but at some point the government may need to step in.”

Parental complaints about TV programs have existed for decades, yet sex, violence and crude language steadily proliferate. Politicians only periodically address the matter, but now is one of those periods — sparked by the furor over the nationally telecast exposure of Janet Jackson’s right breast during the Super Bowl halftime show.

“It’s almost laughable,” said Caroline Odell, a mother of four from Omaha, Neb., of the post-Super Bowl reaction. “That kind of stuff is out there all the time. Why is everybody so surprised?”

Parents use a hodgepodge of rules, gadgets and intuition in trying to keep their children away from offensive programming. Some prefer that their children watch videos instead of TV. Others try to prevent children from watching except with a parent present.

Mrs. Odell’s children are a 4-year-old, an 8-year-old and two high-school students, so the challenges in terms of monitoring TV content vary. The two eldest are banned outright from watching MTV, and the two youngest, she said, encounter crude language even on ostensibly child-friendly cartoons.

“I’m particular about what I let them watch, and I’m still having problems,” Mrs. Odell said. “The hardest challenge is with the shows that are supposed to be safe.”

Though she says parents must exercise vigilance, Mrs. Odell thinks the TV industry deserves blame for failing to keep questionable content off early-evening network shows.

“They have to be held to a higher standard than just ‘Parental guidance advised,’” she said. “We absolutely need some enforceable federal controls. The industry can’t be trusted to do it themselves.”

Karen Koonce, whose family attends the same Omaha church as the Odells, uses a V-chip to screen programming and a filter to block out swear words. She wishes — not optimistically — that the industry could police itself without the need for mandatory standards.

“Nobody’s going to agree on what’s objectionable,” said Mrs. Koonce, who home-schools four children ranging in age from 3 to 12. “What I find inappropriate for them, someone else is going to find just ducky.”

L. Brent Bozell III, a father of five who is president of the Parents Television Council, wants Congress to pressure cable TV companies into offering “a la carte” service, so parents can pay only for the channels they want their family to see.

“As bad as broadcast TV has gotten, it’s nothing compared with what children consume day and night on basic cable,” Mr. Bozell wrote recently to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

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