- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2020

A parental watchdog group is calling for the end of a federally supported board that is supposed to keep harmful television content from children but is dogged by criticism of being a shill for the entertainment industry.

Parents Television Council President Tim Winter urged the change in a letter last week to Michael Powell, chairman of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board (TVOMB).

Mr. Winter says a new organization must be created to hold TV network and studio executives accountable for inaccurate ratings and increasingly violent, sexually explicit television pushed toward children.

“I spent almost two decades working at the television networks and studios,” Mr. Winter told The Washington Times. “If I had presented that report as a solution to a federal regulatory critique, I would’ve been fired.”

He was referring to the TVOMB’s response in January to a Federal Communications Commission congressional report about the TV oversight board that had noted in May inaccuracies in the TV rating system and a backlog of unanswered public comments. The board’s annual report sidestepped those issues, Mr. Winter said.

“We are publicly calling for the TVOMB to be disbanded and reconstituted to better represent the interests of children and families,” he said in the letter to Mr. Powell, dated Feb. 24 and obtained by The Washington Times. “[I]t is hard for those who have committed their professional lives to protecting children from age-inappropriate entertainment to view the Report with anything but discontent.”

Chief among the critics’ complaints against the monitoring board has been “ratings creep,” by which TV shows with adult content receive ratings of TV-PG or TV-14, meaning they are appropriate for children.

The FCC said in its May report that it lacked sufficient time to assess whether lax ratings are prevalent. But it noted the TVOMB’s inaction, secrecy and lack of working phone number.

“The record before us suggests that the [board] could better serve viewers if it were more accessible and transparent,” the 15-page FCC report concluded.

As part of its response, the 20-year-old TVOMB released its first-ever report, touting the “rebrand” of its logo, its telephone line for feedback, a mobile-friendly website and a new “fact sheet” listing definitions of ratings categories. The nearly 30-page report also said the board had taken the FCC’s findings “extremely seriously” and “has worked to increase transparency and accountability” into its oversight.

“I am pleased to publish this annual report as part of the Monitoring Board’s ongoing commitment to transparency and accountability,” said Mr. Powell, TVOMB president and a former FCC chairman. “As we look ahead to next year, the Monitoring Board stands ready to build on the initiatives it undertook in 2019 as we continue to help parents make informed decisions about what programs are suitable for their children.”

On Friday, Mr. Winter said he had not received a response from Mr. Powell, adding that his group will advocate publicly for disbanding the oversight board.

The TVOMB operates on the voluntary compliance of members of the television industry. Eighteen of its 24 members are industry representatives; other members include nonprofit groups and the FCC chairman.

Its ratings, such as TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-MA, appear in the upper-left hand corner of the screen at the outset of television programs.

The board was created under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a way for the industry to police itself and ensure violent or sexually graphic content did not reach children.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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