Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council, shares how we can protect our families and especially our children from the harmful content that seems to pervade every form of video entertainment. This is even more critical in light of the increasing media that features children in sexualized manners, such as the recent French production Cuties, which aired on Netflix and was marketed for children.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Pandemic protocols have increased time at home this year, in some cases leading to more time spent in front of TV screens. Many families may have been startled to find just how much further television and movies have devolved. One French production called Cuties, airing on Netflix, caused a sustained outcry this summer for the way it sexualizes minors.
Well, how can we protect our families from exposure to such harmful content, even while it seems to pervade every form of video entertainment? Here to offer answers to those questions and more is Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council. That’s a non-partisan organization that advocates for responsible entertainment. Mr. Winter brings a wealth of experience from his time spent at NBC, MSNBC, MGM studios, and many years with Parents Television Council.
Tim Winter, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
TIM WINTER: It’s a pleasure to be back with you talking to your supporters there in North Carolina. Good day to you from Hollywood.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, let’s start with Cuties. Netflix has argued that this program actually intended to shine a light on the sexual exploitation of minors, but it seems to have missed its mark.
TIM WINTER: We would agree with the producers and with Netflix that it is important for not just the nation, but the world to come together and do their best to put an end to the sexual exploitation of children. We’re at a time in the world where one million children around the world are held in some sort of bondage for sexual purposes, sexually trafficked and so forth, a million children. And this film, it’s a French film. The producer says it is intended to shine a light on sexual exploitation, the sexualization of children, especially in social media. But rather than creating a dialogue about how to put an end to it, it actually perpetuates it. It actually focuses on the sexualization of children by sexualizing children, not by denouncing the sexualization.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, what kind of response did Netflix receive to this film?
TIM WINTER: It was interesting. Netflix marketed the film in a way that they then had to walk back and apologize for. They showed the young girls—these are 11-year-old girls, by the way in this movie—they showed the girls in very provocative scenes, which actually were taken from the movie. But there was such an uproar over the way the film was being marketed that they walked it back, and they changed the marketing, and they apologized, and they said, “Don’t be upset about the film until you see it, because when you see it, you’re not going to be upset. We made a mistake marketing it with the graphic imagery.” Well, what we learned was the movie is every bit as graphic as the original imagery was. And we do know that many thousands of Americans, and we think around the world also, decided too that it was too much, that they’d had enough of Netflix, and that they were going to unsubscribe from Netflix. We don’t know the final tally, but we hope it’s a large number because dollars and cents is what really is going to speak to Netflix in this matter.
TRACI GRIGGS: Films like Cuties are actually not unusual, right, when it comes to programming that targets and exploits minors.
TIM WINTER: Oh gosh, the sad thing about this, and what we hope this is now shedding light on, is Netflix as a corporation that appears to have a corporate practice of sexually exploiting children for the sake of entertainment. If there was just one show, you’d think it was an anomaly. If it was two, maybe it’s a coincidence. If it’s three, you go home, and there’s a pattern here. Now we have four or five or six shows that are sexually exploiting children for the sake of entertainment. And I mean, grotesquely sexually exploiting them. Content that I would be uncomfortable even describing on this radio program today that no one would even envision that being possible. The graphic imagery as entertainment, it really is disgusting. And that’s why it’s so important that perhaps this is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps this is something that will cause enough focus on Netflix for what we see as a grotesque pattern, really a corporate practice of sexual exploiting children, just for the sake of adult entertainment.
TRACI GRIGGS: And this outcry did have an effect of causing some investigations to be launched. Isn’t that correct?
TIM WINTER: Oh yes. We’ve been clamoring for some time for not just federal authorities in Washington, D.C., Department of Justice, and so forth on Capitol Hill to look into the practices of Netflix. But also, we turned to State Attorneys General, and we were very heartened. We just learned in recent days that a grand jury in the State of Texas has indicted Netflix for their portrayal of children in a sexualizing way. When you look at the statute in Texas State Law, it appears to me that Netflix has actually broken the law. We must not stop at Texas. We want to make sure that other states, other jurisdictions, and the federal government also have a look into Netflix in their practices. We want to make sure that there’s a comprehensive legal review to see if laws were broken, and if they were broken, then we need to make sure that those who made these decisions to produce and distribute this material are held publicly to account.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, talk a little bit about why this keeps cropping up. Is there then a major market for this kind of material?
TIM WINTER: You know, that’s a very insightful question because why would Hollywood, forces in Hollywood, spend millions of dollars to produce and distribute content like this? There must be a marketplace for this type of programming. Those who produce it say, “Well, I’m trying to start a dialogue. I’m trying to create a national/international dialogue around these issues.” They’re not doing that. They’re actually using it for the sake of entertainment. If this was truly an attempt to have a dialogue, then where’s the dialogue? These are shows that sexually exploited children for the sake of entertainment. Who is the market? Who are they? For whom are they producing these shows? The answer is it has to be a large number of people who are very sick, very twisted, who thrive on this type of material. You know, it’s almost like if Jeffrey Epstein, if the sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, could have a hand in the production of entertainment, this is the type of thing that he and his ilk would try to produce and distribute. It can’t be for children, but it must be for adults. It’s rated for adults. It’s rated mature audiences only. So, it’s supposed to be marketed just to adults. Well, what adults? It has to be people who thrive on seeing little children in sexual circumstances.
TRACI GRIGGS: Sexual exploitation though is not the only concerning message being pushed in today’s programming. What are some other problematic material and messages that we’re seeing?
TIM WINTER: No, we’re seeing not just sexual exploitation of children, but sexual exploitation of adults. Content that suggests that sexual assault of women, holding her captive, sexually assaulting her, and forcing her to fall in love with the captor is actually the premise of a movie also on Netflix. It’s called 365 Days. Is that really the kind of love story we should be holding out there as an example, especially when Hollywood is dealing with its Me-Too Harvey Weinstein crisis? It seems to me that the things that Hollywood is asking itself and the world not to do, they are actually then portraying those things as something that’s positive, romantic, and men and women should aspire to do. It’s really an upside down scenario. It’s not just sexual exploitation, the violence, the streaming platforms especially, seem to be promoting explicit content and thinking that somehow, it’s a positive portrayal of society.
TRACI GRIGGS: We as families, what do we do potentially, to encourage some of this kind of poor programming, and what do we need to be doing to make sure that we’re not contributing to the problem?
TIM WINTER: Two very important things must happen if families are to be served with positive programming, and if this most wretched and vile stuff is to be condemned and done away with. Number one is we must not be silent. Your listeners must be active, vocal, outspoken about this issue. You condemn those who do the bad, but you support those who are trying to do good. There are good people out there, not just in Hollywood, but around the country who are trying to provide positive, family-friendly, uplifting entertainment, and they deserve our support. There are people out there that are producing wonderful things, wonderful streaming content, like PureFlix. PureFlix, we have a good relationship with that company. And my understanding is they have had a huge uptick in usage by Americans, especially during the COVID crisis where people are in front of screens more often for longer periods of time. Children especially are in front of screens. This is a time where we all have to be looking for the very best, making sure that our children are protected from the very worst and really being an active part in our children and grandchildren’s entertainment media consumption.
TRACI GRIGGS: Give us a little more information about PureFlix. What is that? And why is that a good thing?
TIM WINTER: PureFlix is like Netflix. It is a streaming video service that you can subscribe to every month and receive programming that is 100 percent family-friendly. PureFlix offers faith and family-positive programming, and they do so with very high production values. It’s good content. It’s reasonably priced, and you can have your family in front of it without being afraid of what we call the “sucker punch,” where you think you’re going to watch something family-friendly, and boom, what comes is something that’s not family-friendly at all. PureFlix is a very safe outlet. So, it’s important for parents to really keep an eye out. That’s why the Parents Television Council is here. We want to provide good resources as well to parents not just condemning the bad, but also providing lighting the candle fills the room. Let’s make sure that we have lots of candles that can help parents.
TRACI GRIGGS: How much of an effect do you think unsubscribing from Netflix has? Do you recommend that as a strategy?
TIM WINTER: I do. It’s pretty much like any television network, like any cable channel. They have some good stuff. They have some bad stuff. The problem is with Netflix there’s so much bad, and there is so much that really is. You scratch your head again, and you need to say, “Why would they do such harmful stuff, while they also have good stuff for children?” I think it’s important that we vote with our pocketbooks. The only thing that Netflix is going to listen to, well, they’re going to listen to a grand jury indictment from Texas, for sure. And we’re going to make sure that hopefully the feds step up and do the same thing, but they’re really going to follow the money. That’s what these publicly traded corporations do. That’s what they’re in business to do to make money for the shareholders. But what they’re doing is they are profiting on the backs of the parents who are, I think, just really having a tough time. And especially with the COVID situation, so much media targeting their children. It’s so tough on parents. They need to be making the very best decisions they can. And we think that by getting rid of Netflix. There are other good services out there, but please don’t, don’t give your money to Netflix if they are going to put such vile stuff there in front of the world to see.
TRACI GRIGGS: You also mentioned filtering services. So there has been a prolonged legal battle, right? With some of Hollywood’s biggest names and that has been resolved. Tell us a little bit about that and what you recommend for people on that front.
TIM WINTER: The filtering services you can watch: you can stream Amazon Prime, you can stream Netflix, and you can set controls so that if there are things you don’t want your child or your family, or even you to see or hear—nudity, graphic violence, the Lord’s name in vain, other profanity—you can set controls. And then when the movie plays, it literally just skips past those things you don’t want to see. It’s really quite sophisticated. VidAngel had been sued by Disney, and Disney and VidAngel have settled their lawsuit. It’s interesting. Disney forgave $50 million, basically handing a check back to VidAngel, $50 million in exchange for some promises not to pursue some lobbying on Capitol Hill for legislation. But the bottom line is that Disney walked away from that big cash settlement, and VidAngel is allowed to stay in business and continue their filtering work, which we think is a wonderful resource, a wonderful tool for families.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Tim Winter, where can our listeners go to learn more about the good work that you all are doing and join in with you at Parents Television Council?
TIM WINTER: Joining the PTC is free, and you can learn more at parentstv.org. Parentstv.org is our website. You can learn. You can read. You can become more informed. You can become active. You can be part of our choir. We want to help parents to be better parents.
TRACI GRIGGS: Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
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