It was during a normal day at home with his then-5-year-old daughter that Tim Winter realized that someone needed to make a change.
Winter was between jobs, so while his wife worked full time, he stayed home to care for their daughter. As he sat with her that day — her eyes glued to the TV but his mind elsewhere — he jumped to his feet in shock.
“I had one of those moments that I think so many parents experience,” Winter said during a recent interview with the Deseret News. “All of the sudden you hear something and you look and you go, ‘Holy cow! What’s going on here?’ and you run to the remote control and change the channel, hoping innocence wasn’t lost.”
“It was that (moment) that really kind of shook me and made me more aware,” he said. "Children are bombarded, and now in a digital media world with cellphones and such, it’s 24/7. Children are being bombarded 24/7 with media communication, and much of that communication is totally age inappropriate.”
It was around the same time as this realization that Winter learned about the Parents Television Council, an organization that advocates for “safe and sound” media by protecting children and families from explicit content, and heard the organization was looking for a new executive director.
He got the job and after four years was promoted to president, a position he has been in for more than 10 years. Fifteen years after that life-changing incident in his home, Winter is entrenched in the fight for clean media at a time when children have more access to media content than ever before.
According to a study published in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day using media, and teens average more than 11 hours per day.
“(Children and teens) spend more time doing that than they do spending time with parents,” Winter said. “They spend more time with media than they do with school. They spend more time with media than they do in church. They spend more time with media than any other activity in their life other than sleeping.”
For Winter and other members of the Parents Television Council, the amount of time children and teens spend with media is particularly concerning considering studies that show an increase in violent, sexually explicit and vulgar content.
For example, a 2010 study by PTC found a 70 percent increase in the use of profanity on prime-time broadcast network TV from 2005 to 2010. A 2013 PTC study of 238 episodes of prime-time shows on broadcast television during November and May sweeps found that 63 percent contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females. And an often-cited statistic on media violence indicates that American children will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time they are 18 years old — and that’s from a study that was conducted in 1998, long before YouTube, Netflix and other streaming platforms made media even more readily accessible.
So how has this type of content made its way onto screens across the country?
“You must begin, I think, from the foundation that television network executives don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Gosh, how can I harm families?’ They don’t,” Winter said. “They are looking at how can they increase rating points, share points and so forth.”
With money as their primary focus, Winter said network programming executives end up producing a product that can alienate families and viewers who are content-conscious.
“Very seldom does the Hollywood creative community focus on, 'How can we be better?', 'How can we improve the quality?', 'How can we capture a larger audience of families?'” he said. “They don’t think that way. They are mostly 25- to 54-year-old adults who program for themselves and for each other, and I think they lose sight of the bigger picture.”
PTC seeks to combat explicit media by conducting research, publishing reviews and providing support to other companies and organizations such as VidAngel that provide technology and other tools to either filter content or provide detailed information on what viewers can expect.
“I hear from voices that are in opposition to our mission from time to time that claim, ‘If you don’t like it, then turn it off,’” he said. “Certainly not every part is appropriate for every audience. That’s humanity 101; that’s just the way it is. But when you have the overwhelming majority of entertainment content … being produced not for small children and not for the most viciously explicit but somewhere in between, to say that you’re only remedy is to turn it off is I think misguided.”
But the organization’s main goal is to empower parents.
“My admonition to parents is that they instinctively, intuitively know that there's potential harm that comes from their child consuming explicit media,” Winter said. “Each family has their own temperature, I would say, for what is or is not explicit or what is or is not age-inappropriate or what does or does not align with that family’s values.”