Fox undermines parents trying to protect their kids

Fox emphasizes parental responsibility over government regulation, but then goes around parent choices in its advertising
Last week, Fox Broadcasting Company aired an ad with a drawing depicting sexual bondage during The Simpsons, a show that I allow my kids to watch. What I don’t allow them to watch is Family Guy, which is where the image came from. The image showed a woman in a black push-up S&M-type laced up corset and black high boots or stockings, and gloves, and a weird little-old-man baby in a diaper that was chained to a wide board by ankles and wrists. It was only on screen for a few seconds, but I found a similar image online. I wrote a quick post, and filed a complaint with the FCC. But I think the subject deserves a closer look.
Fox has been airing objectionable promos for its other shows during the Simpsons, as well as sporting events, for years. In 2005, I complained to the FCC about graphic promos for violent and frightening shows aired during the Red Sox games. Another writer wrote about promos for Family Guy in 2006.
Fox is a member of TV Watch, a coalition that opposes government regulation of TV programming. The site promotes parental responsibility for what their children watch, and tells parents how to use technology on their television sets to block shows based on their ratings. Fox links to TV Watch on its site – see the link called Help for Parents at the bottom of the page.
However, the blocking technology does not block promos for the shows that parents exclude. Just as it didn’t block the ad that my children saw.
I asked Fox Broadcasting Company about their policy on ads. I also asked, “When you show scary, gruesome, violent or sexual images in promos for your tv shows during other shows, does that undermine parents’ ability to decide for themselves what is best for their children to view?”
Elissa Johansmeier, vice president of publicity and corporate communications for Fox Broadcasting, sent this reply by email:
“All programming and promotional spots that air on FOX are vetted by our Broadcast Standards & Practices department for the appropriateness of their content.”
She said Fox does not discuss BS&P policies with the media.
Ms. Johansmeier said the decision to air this particular ad was made by the Fox affiliate in Boston. I asked her if Fox expects affiliates to follow the national policy on ads, if there is one. She also did not answer that question.
The Fox affiliate in Boston referred my questions to a New York-based media relations person who speaks for 26 affiliate stations. That person has not returned my calls.
TV Watch did not respond to emailed requests for an interview, and provided no phone number on the site. I called a number of the individuals and organizations listed as members of the coalition, and got a call back from Jack Myers, a media economist and founder of M.E.D.I.Advisory Group.
I asked Mr. Myers if showing objectionable images to promote a network’s other shows during broadcasts undermines parents ability to monitor what their children watch.
“I agree it’s a concern,” he said. “I agree you have a legitimate question. Unless the network promotional department is particularly sensitive to that issue, I’m not aware of what your alternative is, other than what you are doing, which is to comment and complain.”
Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media, an organization that provides reviews and education on media for parents, recommends that parents use a DVR if they have one. “That allows you to fast forward through the commercials.” If you don’t record, she also recommended muting commercials. Even if the image is problematic, without sound children are less likely to pay attention, she said.
Marisa Connolly, communications manager at Common Sense Media said they refer to such as experience as being “blindsided.” “You can’t really prepare yourself for what’s going to happen in marketing or promotions,” she said. Ms. Connolly directs parents to the organization’s site where parents can find tips for turning such experiences in teachable moments.
It will be tough, though, for parents to discuss an image such as the one Fox showed, an image of a sexual bondage scene involving a baby. It’s even worse if the kids are familiar with the show. Then they would know that the woman in the picture is the baby’s mother. I can’t imagine that my 14-year-old is ready for a discussion about S&M, let alone my 11-year-old. What does a parent say to a 6- or 7-year-old?
“They don’t have any context,” said Sharon Maxwell, clinical psychologist and author of The Talk. “There is a certain age at which we can have a conversation. But there is a certain age at which they are way too young for this conversation, but it becomes part of their (developing) brain.”
As long as Fox wasn’t answering questions, I asked them if Fox also recommends that parents record the shows and then fast forward through the commercials during playback. Their advertisers wouldn’t be too happy with that recommendation. As expected, no answer.


  1. Thank you for this post and blog. I have have just stumbled upon your site and have many of the concerns you have while viewing tv with my children. I was watching a ice skating event one Sunday a few years ago with my 2 year old never thinking there would be inappropriate commercials. There was a scary trailer for a horror movie? I generally only watch recorded shows with my kids now because the advertising for adult shows and movies is a real problem for me. I don't want my kids little minds imprinted with the dark images of horror movies 30 seconds at a time. Thanks for your blog.

  2. I appreciate the research you did on this topic. I don't want to rely on a DVR in order to watch television. I do happen to tape a lot of shows, but could not possibly have this feature set for everything that is being watched on my TV.It's impractical and a ridiculous suggestion. "Ms. Connolly directs parents to the organization’s site where parents can find tips for turning such experiences in teachable moments." Ms. Connolly should realize some of these ads/images create no benefit from a teachable moment – only more confusion. I would love to hear the teachable moment recommended re: the ad with the baby and his mother in an S&M situation. I would like to watch TV with or without my family and not be barraged my offensive or terrifying images.

  3. Fox's behavior is outrageous – and depressing. The same standards that prevent airing TV shows at certain times obviously should apply to the ads that promote those shows! I know that parents have the most critical role to play in deciding what programming their children can watch, but Fox is making it virtually impossible for individual parents to exert the control they deem appropriate. Sitting next to my sons and fast-forwarding through commercials every time they watch TV is not a solution. Fox, please reconsider these insidious practices.

  4. My parents didn't allow a TV in the house until I was 6 years old-maybe this was part of the reason. However since TV is a prevailing part of our culture I would say that while watching TV never presume that a for profit organization would do anything but try to make a profit. Fox TV panders to the conservative right wing, probably because there is a market there for them-ie profit. Don't expect for one minute that they really care about kids-there is no incentive to do so. I like American Idol in the final stages, but I would never watch Fox or any other TV station because I thought that they had my child's best interest in mind. Our kids are bombarded with violent and sexual images in every form of media. Should it be allowed? Probably not. If there are guidelines for TV shows then all the advertising/show promos should adhere to those guidelines. If they don't they should be fined and that money should go to a competitor who is not violating the standards.

  5. great blog post! i'm a little suprised and confused by the comments of people who "refuse" to do things like fast forward thru commercials or dvr. um…you could just not watch it, if you are that bothered by it. (as you should be!)

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