Flanked by representatives of the Moral Majority the right to life movement, and the anti ERA Eagle Forum, Donald E. Wildmon of the National Federation for Decency yesterday announced a new coalition of groups fighting sex, violence and profanity of television.
Quoting public figures ranging from the late Bing Crosby to the late Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Wildmon said that after a 12 week monitoring program this spring the new group, Coalition for Better Television, would urge viewers to boycott products advertised on programs found to have an excessive number of "skin scenes," implied sexual intercourse, sexually suggestive comments, an undue emphasis on the human anatomy, violence "clearly intended to do bodily harm," or abundant profanity.
"For years concerned citizens have urged, pleaded and even begged the networks to halt the trend toward increasing amounts of sex, violence and profanity," said Wildmon, reading a six-page prepared statement at a press conference attended by at least seven television camera crews. "Instead of reason, restraint and responsibility, the networks have rather displayed an arrogance and indifference rarely matched in the history of corporate America."
Representatives of networks, advertisers and Action for Children's Television all said Wildmon's boycott threat would create a form of censorship. "We do not believe that any group has the right to appoint itself as the moral censor for all the people," said Tom Mackin of ABC. "We find the coalition's threat to boycott a totally unacceptable method of trying to influence programming."
Wildmon, a conservative minister from Tupelo, Miss., said the coalition included "almost 200" groups "with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives." He said the list of groups was in Mississippi, however, and acknowledged there were no organizations included that might be described as liberal. "They're welcome to join, though," he said. Board members of the coalition, which expects to spend $20,000 on its monitoring program, include Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum, Ron Godwin of the Moral Majority and Judie Brown of the American Life Lobby, all of whom were present at yesterday's press conference.
"There is not and will not be any coercion," Wildmon said."As Americans we have a right to spend our money where we desire. As concerned parents and citizens, we have an obligation to practice not only selective viewing but selected buying."
The National Federation for Decency conducts regular television monitoring projects staffed by 700 volunteers in 16 states, Wildmon said. Last fall, he said, they graded 778 hours of prime-time shows on a scale of one to 10 and found that the "least constructive" programs were "Ladies Man," "Soap," "It's a Living," "Taxi," "Three's Company," "Wkrp in Cincinnati," Vegas, and the "Dukes of Hazzard."
They also monitor television commercials, and found, for example, that Consolidated Foods which makes Hanes panty hose and underwear, "used sex to sell products" more than any other company in prime time.
Working from forms, he said, the television monitors will count scenes of sex and violence and write down profane words, and note the advertisers for each program. This information will be tabulated both by hand and by computer, he said, producing information such as "For each 30-second advertisement last fall Revlon helped sponsor 18 1/2 sex scenes," as the NFD project found.
Profane words logged during prime time last fall include the use of God, Jesus and Christ as swear words, "a--," "son-of-a-bitch," "s---- you," "s---" and "bastard." "I hate to have to say these words to a lady," wildmon said to a reporter. "No matter how well-intentioned . . . such efforts amount to censorship," said a spokesman for the CBS network. "We are also concerned that this effort to restrict the individual's freedom of choice by having only 'approved' television programs available may bring on similar campaigns directed at other communications media."
Wildmon anticipated this reaction and denied that his group was aiming at censorship because "censorship is an official act by some official body at some level of government." That sent the CBS spokesman, Gene Mater, to his dictionary in his New York office, where he found that censorship can be either official or unofficial. "he is saying that if there is a program he doesn't like no one should watch it," Mater said. "He is attempting to substitute his judgment for yours or mine."
Peggy Charren of Action for Children's Television said she "wouldn't touch them (the coalition) with a 10-foot pole," because the process of monitoring and boycotting is not a process that allows for discussion or changes in the networks' decision making processes. Having more programs on television, a wider choice of material, she said, is a more effective antidote to trash than just removing offensive programs. Wildmon said Act had been asked to join the coalition; Charren said she had no knowledge of the invitation.
A receptionist for NBC said he had been instructed to say "no comment" to inquiries about the coalition. The Association of National Advertisers, a trade association which represents 450 national advertisers, had a press release ready to hand reporters as they left the coalition's press conference. "If efforts to subvert or destroy a medium's economic base are successful, the public's freedom of choice, as well as a free and diverse press, are jeopardized," it said, in part.
Wildmon said the boycott he proposed was different from the boycott called by supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment because it was a "primary boycott," while the ERA boycott was a "secondary" boycott of "innocent people on the side." (ERA) supporters called for people to boycott states where the amendment has not been ratified.)
"We're not opposed to sex and violence per se," he said. "We're opposed to gratuitous sex and violence . . . With our plan of action the networks have the right to spend their money where they desire, the advertisers have the right to spend their money where they desire, and the consumers have the right to spend their money where they desire."