In many US homes, there are more than one TV, and at least one is on for several hours each day. What comes into your home through the TV airwaves? Viewers and parents like you have more power over TV programming than you may think.

"Good" TV

Early in 2011, teen cable-Mecca MTV launched a new show called Skins. Members of the show's cast, many of them aged 15 to 19 years old, say the show's about teenage relationships and the angst of growing up.

Many disagree, however. For instance, the Parents Television Council (PTC) says the show glorifies teenage drug and alcohol use and abuse, sexual relationships, and criminal activities like theft. The PTC has even asked the U.S. Congress to investigate whether the show violates federal child pornography laws.

Really?

It's not a far-flung argument, either. In a soon-to-run episode, it's reported, a 17-year-old boy runs naked down a street; viewers see his nude rear-end. A single sexually explicit photo or movie or television scene of a minor (usually anyone under 18 years old) may violate federal law.

That's true even if (as is almost certainly the case) the parents of the minor-actors gave their consent to the filming of their children nude or partially nude. It's against the law to show minors in sexually explicit poses or conduct. Period.

Fix It?

Apparently in response to complaints from PTC and others, MTV's executives told the show to tone things down.

Will it work, or is it too little too late? This isn't the first clash between reality TV and real laws. As you may recall, a former cast member of the popular Jersey Shore filed a lawsuit claiming she was purposely assaulted by other cast members as an on-going ploy to gain viewership and ratings.

The show is still on TV, and nothing much has changed in the show's format and themes. However, the main difference is that the Jersey Shore cast is above the age of 18.

What You Can Do

Viewers like you aren't powerless. In fact, you can have a big say on which TV shows make the cut and get into your living room. As parents and viewers:

  • Monitor what your young children watch on TV. Practically every TV, cable, and satellite system has parental control functions where you can block specific shows, specific TV ratings, and even entire channels
  • If you let your children watch programs like Skins, talk to them about the behaviors shown on the program and how you expect them not to behave in the same way; that the show is entertainment

There are many other things viewers and consumers like you can do, too:

  • Contact the TV network and tell them what you thing about the show - good or bad
  • If you like it, watch it; if not, don't. Most TV networks are out to make money, and the way they can do that is if their programs are watched
  • If you don't like the show, contact the show's sponsors and let them know their continued support of the show jeopardizes your continued support of their products or services. The PTC started such a successful boycott in response to Skins
  • If you think a TV network or show has violated child pornography or decency rules laws, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

TV is a part of our lives. It's a big source of news and entertainment. We should take an active role in deciding what's available on the airwaves, and at the very least, what makes it into our living rooms.

Remember, too, that there are many things we may not like, but they are not necessarily illegal - just not something you want to participate in.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does the FCC have to investigate my complaint?
  • Are there different rules for regular network TV stations and cable stations? What about shows my child can watch on her laptop?
  • Can a parent get into legal trouble for signing a consent form for a child's appearance on a TV show?

Tagged as: Communications and Media, Telecommunications Law, TV programs, telecommunications lawyer