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Twins and parents watching televison

Obscene language on primetime television, according to a new study, is on a meteoric rise in both frequency and intensity – with the ‘f-word,’ for example, being spoken or bleeped 25 times as often as it was only five years ago.

The “Habitat for Profanity” study, conducted by the Parents Television Council, compared primetime programming from the nation’s top broadcast networks in the first two weeks of the 2010 and 2005 fall seasons.

The study found that not only has overall usage of obscene language increased by 69.3 percent since 2005, but also that harsh obscenities have increased most significantly in the first hour of prime time, the so-called “family hour” of 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. During that hour alone, the use of a bleeped “f-word” rose from 10 instances in 2005, to 111 instances in 2010.

“Our analysis of the first two weeks of this still-new fall television season shows a disturbing trend that shocked even us,” said PTC President Tim Winter in a statement. “Profanity is far more frequent and the profanity itself is far harsher than just five years ago. Even worse, the most egregious language is being aired during the timeslots when children are most likely to be in the audience.”

He continued, “While broadcasters continue to claim that they can regulate themselves, this type of increase in profane words aired on scripted programming – not on live broadcasts that are the subject of ongoing judicial review – suggests otherwise. Are we to expect a 69 percent increase in TV profanity every five years?”

Winter also criticized TV broadcasters in light of a decision made last summer by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the ongoing Fox v. FCC case. In July, the court’s three-judge panel tossed out the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency rules, which had put limits on language and content in broadcast television programming. The court called the regulations “unconstitutionally vague and chilling.”

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“After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the FCC’s congressionally-mandated authority to enforce the broadcast decency law,” Winter said, “industry and media pundits predicted a sharp increase in the amount of profanity on television. Sadly, they were correct.”

He continued, speaking of the recent increase in obsene language: “Is this a coincidence? Is it an aberration? Or is this exactly the path that broadcasters and the ‘creative community’ in Hollywood set out when they began launching their legal attacks against the broadcast decency law?”

In the study, the PTC analyzed use of obscenity on all entertainment programs aired from 8 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET on the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, UPN and the WB in 2005; and ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the CW in 2010) during the first full two weeks of the fall television premiere season, for a total number of 124 programming hours in 2005 and 128 programming hours in 2010. Movies, news programs and sporting events were not included in the analysis.

Among the most significant findings in the study were the following:

  • Comparing the total number of words uttered or bleeped, obscene language on prime time programming increased 69.3 percent from 2005 to 2010.
  • The largest increases were in use of the harshest obscenities, while the greatest increase in harsh obscenities occurred in the 8 p.m. ET time slot, where the bleeped or muted “f-word” jumped from 10 instances in 2005 to 111 instances in 2010.
  • Across all networks in all primetime hours, use of the bleeped “f-word” increased from 11 instances total in 2005 to 276 instances in 2010 – a jump of 2,409 percent.
  • Across all networks in all prime time hours, use of the bleeped “s-word” increased from 11 instances in 2005 to 95 instances in 2010 – not counting the title of the CBS show “$#*! My Dad Says” or NBC’s scripted, unbleeped use of the word in an episode of “30 Rock” – an increase of 763 percent.
  • Several other crude phrases and anatomical or sexual references increased as well, such as “balls,” “boobs,” “screw” and other lewd terms.
  • The only tracked words to be used less often in 2010 than in 2005 were the words “damn” and “bastard.”
  • The Fox broadcast network showed the greatest per-hour increase in use of obscene language from 2005 to 2010, with an increase in all obscenities across all prime time hours of 269 percent.

The study concludes, “Freed of regulation in the wake of the Second Circuit Court’s castration of the FCC’s powers of enforcement, Hollywood’s ‘creative’ personnel and their TV network distribution outlets have deliberately unleashed literally unparalleled levels of profanity and graphic language upon the public – the most egregious of it in a timeslot in which children are most likely to be in the audience.

“By so doing,” the study states, “these ‘creative’ personnel – and the networks which employ them – exhibit continued defiance for the broadcast decency law, the American people whose airwaves they use, and the very concept of acting ‘in the public interest.’”


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