Viewpoint: ‘PUBLIC INPUT’ Dr. Larry Burriss

Public input

One of the oft-heard complaints about media is big media conglomerates simply doing what they want, and ignore the public, and the public’s concern about such things as violence and commercials.
But, if we look at the reality, we see most major forms of media are, in fact, driven by consumer preference, if not out-right consumer demand.

Take a look at movies. Now it’s true movies have become more violent and explicit over the years. But while that has been happening, the movie rating system has changed and adapted in response to consumer complaints.

How many of you have even heard of the “M” rating from 1968? Well, that “M-for-mature” rating was changed, due to consumer pressure, into the PG and NC-17 ratings we have today.
And the PG-13 rating itself was a direct response to public concern about violence.
How many of you remember cigarette commercials on television?
Well, if you are under 50 years old, you’ve never seen a real cigarette commercial on television. That’s because the last televised cigarette commercial was aired on Jan. 1, 1971.
But what’s interesting here is that those commercials were taken off because of the actions of one person, an attorney who demanded time to reply to all of the cigarette ads that were on television during the 50’s and 60’s.
One of the most famous groups to have an impact on television, particularly Saturday morning television, was the now-departed Action for Children’s Television.

Media legend has it A-C-T was started in 1968 by a group of little old ladies sitting around a breakfast table one day, getting more and more upset about the commercials they saw on Saturday morning cartoons.
Over the course of its life, A-C-T successfully pressured networks to reduce the number of commercial minutes on Saturday morning programming. The group also forced advertisers to change how they pitched ready-to-eat cereal to kids, and how toys could be demonstrated and advertised.

Action for Children’s Television disbanded after passage of the Children’s Television Act of 1990. That act, and other F-C-C rules, require local broadcast stations to program at least three hours a week of educational material.
The trick here, if “trick” is really the right word, is what might be called “audience participation.” In a way, television, movies, and all other forms of media are no different from any other product or service: if you don’t like what you see, then do something about it.
But just sitting around complaining to your friends and neighbors won’t do very much. You’re going to have to take some kind of action to get what you want. And if you’re not willing to do that, then you are leaving what you see and hear in the hands of people who do care, whether you agree with them or not.
I’m Larry Burriss

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)