PTA gives TV good marks for cutting excess violence

The PTA thinks it is winning its long-standing battle against "junk" television. For the first time since the National Parents Teachers Association (PTA) began monitoring television in the fall of 1977, the overall marks the PTA is giving TV programs are going higher, and the organization says advertisers are taking notice.

To mark the occasion, the PTA staged its first awards ceremony (March 12) to honor shows that measure up the group's standards for quality.

Based on the assessment of 6,000 PTA members from around the country who watched television for four weeks last fall, awards were given to "Eight is Enough," "Little House on the Prairie," "Prime Time Saturday," "Quincy," "Salvage 1," "60 Minutes," "The Waltons," "20/20," "White Shadow," and "CBS specials."

The PTA critics judged these as excellent for family viewing. According to the rating system, these shows offer a positive contribution to the quality of life, contain high artistic and technical merit, and lack gratuitous sex and violence or stereotypes.

No total victory is being claimed.Bad programming has not vanished. The PTA also singled out 10 television shows that distort reality and promote aggression. They are "A Man Called Sloane," "Best of Saturday Night Live," "Soap," "Detective School," "The Ropers," "Charlie's Angels," "The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo," "Vegas," "Three's Company," and "The Associates." (Several of these shows have been canceled by the networks.)

But generally pleased with the upturn in quality family programming, the PTA decided to publicize the trend by inviting award winners to a luncheon in downtown Los Angeles where plaques were handed to producers of the wholesome shows.

Members of the television industry -- which typically ignored the PTA when the campaign was first launched in 1968 and discounted pressure when the group targeted television violence as the enemy in 1975 -- responded by showing up and accepting the awards with kind words. Recipients said they were "honored" and "flattered." One said, "We hope we continue to be worthy." Another admitted that the PTA had won "the war" for quality on the TV screen.

"There is a very decided change," says national PTA president Virginia Sparling. "We know there has been a significant decrease in gratuitous violence."

The goal of the PTA scrutiny is to improve the social values transmitted to the average American child, who watches some 15,000 hours of television between kindergarten and 12th grade. School consumes just 11,000 hours. To augment its criticism of the industry, the PTA is developing a "critical viewing skills curriculum" to assist children in discerning values.

"We're saying that television is a very important factor in a child's life," says Mrs. Sparling, "and children need to know how to analyze it."

The PTA curriculum, currently being tested, is designed to aid the child in placing television's version of reality in perspective with his own. The emphasis is on problem solving and family responsibilities. The curriculum should be ready for general distribution through the PTA later this year.

The PTA also named advertisers who support only exemplary programs. Just four corporations qualified: Hallmark Cards Inc., Interstate Brands Corporation, Polaroid Corporation, and Quaker Oats Company. While cautious, the PTA said it sees a small but increasing number of advertisers being selective in choosing when their commercials will appear.

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