In Favor of Safe Harbor Hours
January 25, 2012
Communication Law and Ethics
Imagine this: You are in the car on your way to work or to school, you sit down in the office, and go to the grocery store afterwards- during each of these instances, you hear one of your favorite stations play in the background. Over 73% of Americans aged 12 and older listen to the radio in any given week. (Arbitron). The number is even great for children 6- 11, 90% of who listen to the radio, studies find. (Arbitron). As much as the radio can be enjoyable to listen to, sometimes the ”f-word”, a sex joke, or other “indecent” materials makes it’s way onto the air- maybe through an excited persona, a caller in, or an expletive in a song. Indecent materials are “offensive” standards measured by a nation’s “average sensibility that are considered “vulgar” or “shocking”; the manner in which it was portrayed; and if the words were “concentrated”, “fleeting” or “isolated”. The United States Supreme Court case (FCC) Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica distinguishes between “obscene” material, which is always illegal, and “indecent” material, which is legal to broadcast during Safe Harbor hours; each time zone enters Safe Harbor separately. Safe Harbor hours are the hours between 10 PM and 6 AM, where it okay to play” indecent materials on the air under the idea that fewer children will be tuned in during those hours. (FCC). Safe Harbor applies to TV and radio broadcast and is also refereed to as “Watershed” in some non-US countries. The punishment for breaking the rule is a $325,000 fine for each utterance and the FCC’s ability to revoke a station’s license after a certain point. (ICOP). Safe Harbor should be in effect and strongly enforced because children who hear profanity are more likely to be aggressive; the more violence kids are exposed to, the more violent they are likely to be; the more sexual concepts a child is exposed to, the more “sexy” they will try to be; and although parents should monitor what their kids watch and listen to, they often don’t, or can’t do it all of the time. As children are exposed to profanity and violence at younger ages, it is important to understand the repercussions of it and how it can be avoided. (Park). Safe Harbor time rules should be used and enforced.
It is known that children mimic what they see and hear, some of which are hurtful words. New studies show children who hear swear words, tend to be more physically aggressive, in additions to simply repeating what they hear. (Park). Researchers at Brigham University studied middle schools in Missouri and found that “the more children were exposed to profanity, they more likely they were to use swear… From using profanity to aggressive behavior, it was a pretty strong correlation”, then added that the words in the study did not even include the “seven dirty words you’re not allowed to use on TV” and that this study’s results are for “lower forms of profanity” so other, “worse” words must have an even stronger correlation. (Park). Although children are exposed to profane words no matter what, it is important as an adult to do your best to limit the child’s exposure to these words, by not allowing them to watch P-13 movies and evening television. The Safe Harbor rule theoretically means that because the shows are aired past a certain time, children who could potentially see and hear the material will be in bed. That in combination with attentive parents monitoring the content that their children watch, is extremely helpful.
Sadly, words can often later translate into actions. Children come across violence in the media every day. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that children who see a lot of TV violence are more likely to become “immune or numb to the horrors of violence”; “gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems”; “imitate the violence they see on television”; and “identify with certain characters, victims and/ or victimizers”. (AAP) One solution to this problem is to set the V-Chip, which allows blocking of certain programs based on their rating category, but even after this, violence can appear on children’s shows and it is still up to the adults to decide which shows are suitable for their children based on a multitude of factors including the child’s maturity level. (FCC). This, however, is not enough. The FCC should enforce Safe Harbor rules, so it is easy for parents and guardians to monitor the time themselves or even have the babysitter have the TV turned off by a certain point.
Besides for violence, children are also exposed to “obscene” and “indecent” sexual material. If they turn on any station, they can hear a rapper objectifying a woman and claiming her his “bitch” or a pop star talking about their sexual exploits. If they turn on prime time, they can see a crime show episode about strippers or prostitutes or a beer commercial with half-naked woman and ogling men. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the media plays a huge role in the “sexual attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of their patients”. The more sexual themes that children are exposed to, the more likely they are to engage in sexual activities at a younger age. (AAP). To get their education, teens rank the media as the second most influential source for information aside from sexual education classes. (AAP). This just shows how readily available sexual content is to teens. Another unfortunate thing is that teens might listen and watch this information with their younger siblings around and therefore expose children to this content. Their desire to watch and listen will override their common sense and therefore it is the job of the FCC to monitor content and enforce Safe Harbor hours.
Although a child learning profane words is an inevitable, parents and guardians should not monitor the radio stations that their child listens to and decide weather or not the child can listen to them. However, adults cannot always monitor what their child listens to or hears. Any child with an alarm clock radio can turn it on and flip through the stations. By the time most children are in middle school, they have some sort of personal radio- enabled device. And unlike TV stations, radio stations are not always marked with a rating on the screen. Another example would be the radio is on in the car and a random unexpected expletive is thrown out. The adult could change the channel or turn off the radio, but by that point, the child has already heard the word. Safe Harbor hours mean that certain things cannot be played at certain times of the day. Although children will inevitably hear and see things, a combined effort through many mediums, especially Safe Harbor, will be beneficial to children and helpful to parents.
In conclusion, Safe Harbor hours should be enforced because profane words, media violence, sexual themes negatively effect children, and the efforts of parents, guardians and V-Chip technology are not enough. There is no one solution to this problem, but rather many, and Safe Harbor is the most influential of these solutions. So next time you’re driving, in the office, or in the grocery store and hear a radio station playing or watching crime shows past 10 PM, remember to think of Safe Harbor hours and how good it is that it exists.
“Children And TV Violence.” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2010. Web. 27 Jan. 2012. <http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_tv_violence>.
Lohnes, Dow. “FCC Regulation of Broadcast Obscenity, Indecency and Profanity.”UCOP.edu. University of California, June 2006. Web. 24 Jan. 2012. <http://www.ucop.edu/irc/services/documents/indecencymemo.pdf>.
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“Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media — Committee on Public Education 107 (1): 191 — AAP Policy.” AAP Policy – Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Public Education, 1 Jan. 2001. Web. 27 Jan. 2012. <http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;107/1/191>.