Religious conservatives coalesce to battle 'sexploitation' on TV

Is there too much sex on TV? Can viewer objections have an effect? Moral Majority Inc. and some of the other conservative groups whose members helped elect ronald Reagan think the answer to both is "Yes."

Their strategy: Organize nationwide boycotts of products advertised on shows their members find objectionable.

A coalition of some 100 conservative groups, including Moral Majority, is being formed to combat sex on TV.

The coalition is not opposed to television dealing with the subject of sex, says United Methodist minister don Wildmon of Tupelo, Miss., who will head organization. "Our concern is the excessive and gratuitous sex -- the way in which it is presented.

Profanity and homesexuality on TV shows are also to be targeted by teh Coalition for Better Television.

A byproduct of the coalition's efforts, conservative strategists reluctantly admit, will be a potentially massive boost in their mailing lists for the next political campaigns in 1982.

Viewers across the country will be asked to monitor TV sex and send in report forms. Boycotts of uncooperative sponsors would follow.

Such tactics have sparked critism from teh networks and some companies that sponsor TV shows, as well as calls for caution from professional television critics. But there already are signs that organized view pressure gets results.

Sears, Roebuck & Co., pressured three years ago by the Rev. Mr. Wildmon's own TV-monitoring group, the National Federation fro Decency, withdrew as a sponsor of "Charlie's Angels." Warner-Lambert, criticized this year by the Church of Christ, has revised its advertising policy to include stronger prohibitions on sexual material.

But such tactics could lead to programs that are "pap, with no hard edges," says J. Ronald Milavsky, vice-president of News and Social Research for NBC. "On a nationwide basis, people are not offended" by current shows, he says.

Some of the TV shows already criticized by conservative groups for portraying too much sex are among the most popular.

Rather than try to get objectionable sexual topics off the air, efforts should be made to get them aired in a "mature, helpful" way, says Sally Steenland of the National citizens Committee for Broadcasting.

Her group has for years monitored violence on TV, using publicity, not boycotts, against programming it finds objecttionable. It claims to have prompted a "significant reduction" in TV violence over the past few years.

But the conservative coalition does not have a "scientific" method for deciding what constitutes objectionable presentation of sexual subjects on TV, says Sam simon, executive director of the Citizens Committee.

Network spokesmen and others in the industry have charged that the conservative coalition is trying to impose its values on others. But this criticism is not valid, says Calvin Thomas, a former NBC official who now is a spokesman for Moral Majority. "We say you [the networks] are trying to force your values down the throat of everyone else," he declares.

Organizing the public around a single issue is something liberals have been doing for years, says Richard Viguerie, one of the nation's most prominent direct-mail consultants for conservatives. He foresees increasing numbers of people enlisting in the effort to improve media morality.

"Hopefully, the people we involve in this area will take an interest in other public policy issues," Mr. Viguerie said in a telephone interview.

In an effort not linked to the Coalition for Better Television, John Hurt, a Church of Christ minister in Joelton, Tenn., says he has signed up some 6,000 Church of Christ congregations nationally since March.

Currently, he is calling on his supporters to boycott General Foods and American Home Products for their sponsorship of what his supporters say are objectionable shows. General Foods is especially targeted as a sponsor of "Charlie's Angels."

Kathleen C. MacDonough, a General Foods official, says the company keeps its commercials off episodes with "excessive or gratuitous sex" but will not withdraw all its advertising from a series just because some episodes contain such sexual material.

The Rev. Mr. Hurt's group criticizens General foods for continuing to sponsor "Charlie's Angels."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.