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Parents Television Council Falls on Hard Times

| 26 Oct 2010 10:23
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Times are tough for the decency watchdog group Parents Television Council, which is struggling with declining revenues, declining interest, allegations of misconduct and even a little pushback from the media.

I've always been simultaneously amused and appalled by the phrase "decency watchdog." It sounds innocuous enough, but "decency" is such a moving target that these groups are inevitably just a cloak for people who want to impose their values on others. So I'll admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude when I read about the hard times at the Parents Television Council, which despite its name has also taken its share of shots at the game industry.

According to a NYTimes.com report, the PTC is feeling pressure from all sides. It's still blustering over everything from the new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says to Miley Cyrus' sexed-up music video and the cover of the November issue of GQ, but people are starting to lose interest. The recession is blamed for blunting interest; costs are rising while revenues are down dramatically, forcing the group to cut its staff by 38 percent over the past two years. Its output of "major reports" has also been reduced, from four in 2008 to one in 2009 and none so far this year.

Of perhaps more relevance to PTC supporters are allegations leveled by former vice president for development Patrick W. Salazar, who left the group under hazy circumstances in November. The PTC's direct mail campaigns include petitions and solicitations for donations; supporters can sign and return the petition form to be forwarded to the FCC and, optionally, put a few bucks in the envelope as well to help keep the lights on. But according to Salazar, for "at least a period of some months," the PTC was opening envelopes looking for money but not following through with the rest of the process.

"Almost 195,000 pieces of donor/member mail was never sent to the intended recipient," Salazar wrote in an email to PTC President Timothy F. Winter in March 2009. "Most of these were time-sensitive docs whose value is now shot."

"Dude, I told you I was working on fulfillment," Winter responded. "It is under control." He told the Times that the PTC is now caught up with the backlog, but admitted that a "stack of petitions" was too old to be of any value.

Salazar, who, depending on who you ask, either quit or was fired in November 2009, also said the group grossly overstates its membership. The Council claims to have more than 1.3 million members, but Salazar said that includes everyone who has ever signed a petition or donated to the group since its founding in 1995 and that the actual number of regular, annual donors is closer to 12,000. Winter responded by saying that the relatively small number of regular respondents is due at least in part to limits on the number of mailings sent by the group. "We can't afford to communicate with everybody on our total membership list every time," he said.

The entertainment industry, meanwhile, is beginning to show a willingness to push back. In July, a Federal Appeals Courts sided with Fox, CBS and other broadcasters to strike down an FCC policy which prohibited the use of "fleeting expletives" on television. The ban was one of the PTC's "most promoted accomplishments," but the court ruled unanimously that the policy "created a chilling effect because it left broadcasters without a guide to what the commission would find offensive." The FCC is currently appealing the decision.

Gamers will know the Parents Television Council best as one of the groups supporting the Supreme Court appeal of California's overturned videogame law, and for calling those who don't agree with its position "violent thugs" and "bullies." That's some decency, eh?

via: Ars Technica

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