Harvey Weinstein’s change of heart and why the problem of movie violence isn’t going away

Tim Winter President, Parents Television Council
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Harvey Weinstein, producer of some very violent movies including “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “Django Unchained,” recently said that in the future he will be producing movies that “aren’t as violent or as violent as they used to be.”

One has to wonder why he took this bold stance that seems to contradict his life’s work.

Mr. Weinstein appears to have had a change of heart because of his children. He recognizes that media violence can have an impact on young people.

He recently told CNN’s Piers Morgan that, “The change starts here. It has already. For me, I can’t do it. I can’t make one movie and say this is what I want for my kids and then just go out and be a hypocrite.”

Mr. Weinstein joins millions of parents and grandparents across this country who know that media violence does have an impact on children.

Research supports what parents instinctively know. More than 3,000 medical and sociological studies in the last 50 years have proven that children are affected by the media content they consume.

We’re always told by the entertainment industry that the more violence in a movie or in a TV show is better because it sells.

But maybe if more industry leaders like Mr. Weinstein boldly speak up and take a stand against producing TV or movies with graphic violence, then maybe our culture will change for the better.

We can hope.

We certainly know that most of the entertainment industry does not want to change. Consider that after meetings with Vice President Joe Biden in January 2013 about the impact of media violence on children, the industry released a statement saying that they have a “longstanding commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families.”

While parents might have tools like the TV and movie ratings systems at hand, evidence proves that both of these systems are inaccurate and inconsistently applied.

New Parents Television Council research shows the networks routinely assign age ratings for horrifically violent content on broadcast TV deeming it appropriate for children. In fact, some of the most violent TV-14-rated shows on broadcast TV have similar levels and types of violence as TV-MA-rated cable TV shows.

Content such as child molestation, rape, mutilation and disfigurement, dismemberment, graphic killings and injuries by gunfire and stabbings, violent abductions, physical torture, cannibalism, burning flesh, and suicide all showed up as types of violence in the study – yet broadcast TV programs containing these types of violence were rated as appropriate for 14-year-old children.

Movies are no better, as new research from the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Ohio State University found that PG-13 rated films contain as much violence as R-rated films. And another Annenberg Public Policy Center study also found that there was more sex and violence in movies rated PG-13 vs. those with R-ratings.

Parents instinctively protect their children from harmful content because they know that children are impacted by what they see. But they cannot protect their children by relying on an inaccurate ratings system.

Keep in mind that each TV network determines the rating for its own shows. The industry is financially rewarded to rate content inaccurately for younger audiences, as most sponsors rightfully won’t buy advertisements on TV-MA programs. And PG-13 movies are routinely more profitable than R-rated films.

In order for the system to work properly, content ratings must be accurate, consistent, transparent, and publicly accountable. The current system is none of those. It’s time for a comprehensive overhaul of these ratings systems, and those whom the system is intended to serve – parents and families – must be allowed a seat at the table.

So where do we go from here?

Perhaps Mr. Weinstein will use his position to continue to advocate for a reduction in needless on-screen violence. At the very least, we are grateful that he has drawn some public attention to this very real problem of media violence, and we hope that he’s genuinely going to seek a different path in future films.

What also needs to happen is for industry leaders to recognize that media violence does affect children and that it’s time for them to begin to rate their content appropriately for children.

The waiting must stop. Families deserve better.

Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.parentstv.org) Mr. Winter spent over 20 years in broadcasting, cable and digital media, including 15 years at NBC where he helped to manage the network’s financial interest in two dozen cable networks.