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.