Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
A parent’s guide to television

by Dennis Heaney

(From the July 5, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney In late April, the Federal Communications Commission urged Congress to be more aggressive in defining and regulating violence on television. Coming so soon after the infamous “Imus Incident,” the FCC report adds to the debate of how much we want and/or need to regulate what goes out on television and radio – and who should do the regulating.

The arguments on both sides of this debate need to be heard and discussed. Issues of government regulation, personal freedoms and constitutional guarantees must be respected – on both sides – and rushing to a decision isn’t in the best interest of anyone involved. However, the debate is one we should have, if for no other reason than to discuss personal responsibilities when it comes to television and radio.

As I’ve said before in these columns, the overall quality of television has declined. While public television and the Discovery, Hallmark and History channels, among others, do offer high quality programming, too much of cable TV and an increasing amount of major network programming allows excessive violence and sexual content. And study after study has shown that watching violence on television has at least a short-term impact on children, causing them to act in aggressive ways.

The FCC report contained a couple of startling items. For one thing, fewer than half of U.S. families use the TV ratings system enacted in 1997 to monitor their children’s viewing. And less than 10 percent of the families use the V-chip installed in their television sets. Making matters worse, according to the Parents Television Council, the networks often fail to provide accurate program ratings – so that children may see the very violence and sexual content that those parents who are making the effort try to block.

This same FCC report makes a number of useful suggestions to Congress and encourages a full and open debate on the sensitive issue of regulating content. However, I believe that we can put the whole quality of broadcasting debate into perspective by simply realizing for once and for all that parents are the real decision-makers. It’s up to each mother and father to supervise what their kids do – and don’t – watch on television.

I know the kind of pressure children can exert when they want to watch something on television. “Can I?” “Why can’t I?” “Please can I?” “Everyone else watches it!” Those familiar refrains, repeated over and over again can wear down even the strongest parent’s resolve. You can only say “No!” so many times before exhaustion sets in.

The V-chip and the ratings system represent progress, but they can’t be relied on to make decisions for parents. We are the ones to make the ultimate decisions about what our children see on television; we’re the ones who have to speak up for quality television. And we don’t have to wait for the Federal Communications Commission or for Congress; we can do it ourselves. We can write letters and e-mails to networks and sponsors to affirm quality shows, and register complaints about those in bad taste or of poor quality. For industry executives, program content will be dictated by the number of viewers and the dollars spent on their products – and those numbers are within our control.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Standing Up for Standards,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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