Ah, So Americans Believe Television Should Not Be A Menace To Society

In principle, people are leery of governmental action to control the content of television. But this makes it all the more striking that large majorities support some specific proposals to expand the feds’ role in regulating the medium. In a survey of adults by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, adults were asked to say who “should have the most responsibility for keeping kids from seeing too much sex and violence on television and movies these days.” Eighty-six percent picked “parents,” while 8 percent cited “the entertainment industry” and 4 percent “the federal government.” Nonetheless, 75 percent favored stricter federal enforcement of rules about content during hours when kids are likely to be watching; 69 percent supported higher fines for broadcasters that violate current decency rules; and, most significantly, 60 percent favored “making cable television follow the same rules on indecency as broadcast television.”

Many respondents plainly worry—as people in the anti-anti-indecency camp sometimes seem not to—that trashy pop culture affects them and their kids no matter how vigilant they might be at home. After all, you can control the TV shows your kid watches, but you can’t control the shows all her schoolmates watch. Or, to put the matter another way, closing your windows helps just so much if you live downwind from the town dump. One of the survey’s questions asked respondents to say which of two statements is closer to their own opinion: “Raising kids today is a constant battle with the media to teach them right from wrong” or “There are much bigger problems out there for raising kids today than what they see and hear in the media.” Since the statements are by no means mutually exclusive, this seems like a false choice. And the wording of the query is likely to have steered respondents away from the more limited first option. But 41 percent of them went ahead and chose it anyway, while a less-than-landslide 52 percent endorsed the open-ended “bigger problems” answer.

One is struck in looking at the poll results by how little people expect from TV. When asked how satisfied they are “with the choice of things you see on television these days,” a majority said that they’re either “very satisfied” (12 percent) or “fairly satisfied” (43 percent). But when asked to compare TV entertainment today to that of five years ago, just 24 percent said it’s now better while 66 percent said it’s worse. It’s as if people expect TV to worsen, but are reconciled to that sorry fact. Among those who said television has gone downhill, “too much sex” and “too much violence” were the reasons most often cited.