Yesterday we mentioned a New York Times article on the decline of the Parents Television Council. Today Ars Technica follows up on that NYT report with one of its own, along with comments from former Vice President Patrick Salazar. He was heavily quoted in the NYT articles, but apparently, he is not done talking.
On Tuesday night Salazar emailed Ars expanding on the allegations that he made to the Times.
"I witnessed a number of grotesque fundraising practices that I felt were misleading to the public and in contrast with the PTC's stated mission," Salazar's statement said. "PTC education programs with the stated intent of serving the public were actually hollow fundraising schemes. The organization relied on inflated membership numbers to mislead donors, regulators and legislators all in an effort to increase the PTC's the relevance and cash flow."
The Parents Television Council has a new Secret Shopper Campaign to tell you about - coincidently a week before the Supreme Court hears the California video game law Schwarzenegger vs. EMA. The PTC claims that it sent "activists" into 109 stores in 14 markets in 11 states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
The PTC claims that "video game retailers sold Mature-rated games to minors 19 percent of the time, only a slight improvement over the 20 percent failure rate reported by the Federal Trade Commission in 2008." Around 21 stores sold M-rated games to minors, they say.
A chart showing the results can be found here.
The Parents Television Council takes some heat in a recent New York Times article entitled "TV Watchdog Group Is on the Defensive" (thanks Shoutbox user BearDogg-X). Of course, anyone that follows this site knows that the PTC has many more targets than television - books, music, movies, video games - whatever can drive outrage - and in turn - donations to the group.
There is a lot of interesting information in this article on the decline of the group in recent years, but the juiciest stuff is about the group's membership numbers and an allegation about those direct mail donations and petitions. First the membership stuff - from former employee turned critic :
The Parents Television Council (PTC) is urging its ranks to thank attorneys-general from the states that supported the California side in the Schwarzenegger vs. EMA case now before the Supreme Court.
The PTC’s website features the mailing and email addresses for AGs from Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas and Virgina in order to make the process easier.
But what if you don’t live in one of the aforementioned states? The PTC then would urge you to “please write to thank California Governor Arnold Schwartzeneggar and California State Senator Leland Yee for creating and supporting this law.” Lee especially might appreciate such correspondence, as he, “in particular has come under attack from the videogame industry.”
The Parents Television Council (PTC) has a short editorial up on its site in which the organization defends the California law at the heart of Schwarzenegger vs. EMA, claiming that the videogame industry has “resorted to half-truths to try to make its point.”
As far as the law restricting First Amendment rights, the PTC says it “does no such thing,” but “merely prevents the most objectionable content from being sold directly to children.”
Do children also have a "right" to purchase cigarettes and alcohol? Of course not! If the law prevents children from directly purchasing other types of material that is inappropriate or harmful for them, why shouldn't parents be able to rest easy knowing their child won’t be able to buy ultra-violent games without their permission?
Speaking at a Best Buy shareholder meeting at the end of June, a Parents Television Council (PTC) Chapter Director urged the retailer to display M (Mature)-rated games on higher shelves.
Minnesota Chapter Director Phyllis Plum initially praised Best Buy’s efforts in enforcing videogame ratings, but then asked the company to “do more,” stating, “…speaking as one of your customers, a shareholder and most importantly, a grandmother, I’m asking why mature-rated video games cannot be placed on higher shelves.”
Plum cited PTC mystery shoppers as reporting that M-rated games were appearing on lower shelves, “accessible to children.”
She urged Best Buy to:
Watchdog group the Parents Television Council lashed out at Target this week during the retailer's annual shareholder meeting in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
According to a PTC press release, Bob Sherman, director of the organization's Chicago grassroots chapter, called out Target executives over a 2008 secret shopper sting. In that operation the PTC says that minors were able to purchase M-rated games 41% of the time at Target stores. Sherman told the execs and assembled shareholders:
On average our volunteers, all between the ages of 11 and 16, were able to purchase video games rated ‘M’ by the ESRB for mature content 36% of the time. Target stores fared worse than the average – underage children were able to purchase M-rated video games at Target stores a stunning 41% of the time. Parents have the right to expect that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level...
Target represents families to so many consumers. Your advertising and community good works reflect how Target is embedded in our lives. The Parents Television Council is eager and ready to work with you to address this industry-wide dilemma.
Sherman and the PTC also slammed Target for selling mature-themed DVDs to underage buyers.
In contrast to the PTC's numbers, the most recent secret shopper survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that underage buyers of M-rated games were successful only 29% of the time at Target.
Media watchdog group the Parents Television Council has applauded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court decision striking down California's 2005 violent video game law as unconstitutional.
While video game industry lobbyists and video game consumer group the Entertainment Consumers Association criticized Schwarzenegger's decision, PTC President Tim Winter (left) praised the California appeal in a press release:
There should be no question that unaccompanied minors should be kept from purchasing adult video games that research has shown can be harmful to them, just like there are reasonable restrictions on other products that can cause them harm. This California law was designed to enforce the video game industry’s own voluntary retail guidelines... Our own research found that video game retailers sell M-rated video games to minors 36% of the time. Clearly, this law is needed...
The [video game] industry doesn’t follow its own rules, and they don’t want a consequence for violating them. Video game retailers, developers and publishers actually profit when their age restriction policy is ignored. This creates an inherent and unworkable conflict of interest.
We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case and rule in favor of the families and children that this California law was intended to protect.
Winter is referring to the PTC's 2008 secret shopper survey, which found that underage buyers were successful at purchasing M-rated games 36% of the time. A survey released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier in 2008 found only a 20% success rate for underage buyers.
FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.
As GamePolitics reported on Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court has upheld a lower court's ruling that California's 2005 video law is unconstitutional.
The Parents Television Council has now weighed in on the decision. The Los Angeles-based watchdog group criticized the 9th Circuit's ruling and called upon PTC members to support State Sen. Leland Yee's call for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a press release, PTC President Tim Winter (left) said:
Let’s be clear on what – exactly – is going on here: The video game industry has established a policy to ‘protect’ children from a harmful product, yet they file lawsuit after lawsuit to oppose any enforcement of that same policy... The only motivation for the industry to sue is to keep collecting blood money from kids who aren’t supposed to be able to buy these games without their parents present at the time of purchase.
There are very responsible retailers out there – Wal-Mart and Game Stop come to mind – who take their obligation not to sell these games to kids very seriously. Yet industry representatives claim this law is unfairly biased against them... If the industry actually followed its own rules, then this law would have absolutely no financial impact...
Shockingly, the Court’s ruling claims that there isn’t enough research to support that children are affected by video game violence. Yet countless independent studies confirm what most parents instinctively know to be true: repeated exposure to graphic sexual, violent and profanity-laced video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children...
This federal court decision is a disgrace and should be of great concern to all parents – not just in California but across our nation. We applaud State Sen. Yee’s efforts to see that this decision goes to the U.S. Supreme Court...
When President-elect Barack Obama announced this week that Sen. Hillary Clinton was his choice for Secretary of State, we noted that the diplomatic nature of her new job would distance the former First Lady from domestic social issues, including those relating to video game content.
And, as Hillary moves away from the video game arena, one thing becomes clear: The video game industry no longer faces any high-profile political opposition in the United States. Sounds crazy, I know. But consider that, in 2008:
There are remaining critics, to be sure, but they are fragmented and most lack the national profile of Thompson, Walsh, Lieberman and Clinton. Will one of these emerge to fill the void? Hit the jump to see...
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) yesterday introduced a bill in the United States Senate which would:
...prohibit the distribution or sale of video games that do not have age-based content rating labels [and] prohibit the sale or rental of video games with adult content ratings to minors...
The full text of the bill, S.3315 is not yet available on the Senate's legislative website. Thus far the bill has no co-sponsers. The measure has been referred to the Senate's Committe on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
GamePolitics has received unconfirmed word that Wicker's bill is the Senate version of the Video Games Rating Enforcement Act introduced in the House by Reps. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Lee Terry (R-KS) earlier this year.
Wicker, a longtime Congressman, was appointed to his Senate seat by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on New Year's Eve to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Sen. Trent Lott. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wicker is running for election. He must face Mississippi voters in November in a special election to fill out the rest of Trent Lott's term.
(note: this PTC secret shopper survey is not related to the one conducted by Baltimore's ABC-2 that GamePolitics has reported on over the past couple of days)
Watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued a secret shopper report in which video game retailers fared noticeably worse than in results issued by the Federal Trade Commission in April.
Overall, the PTC claims that game retailers sold M-rated titles to underage buyers 36% of the time. As reported by GamePolitics, the FTC's secret shoppers succeeded in buying M-rated games at only a 20% rate.
As in the the FTC study, GameStop and Best Buy did very well, according to the PTC. Both retailers sold to underage buyers just 8% of the time. Circuit City (60%), K-Mart (50%), Hollywood Video (50%) and various local and regional stores (47%) compiled the worst results.
PTC president Tim Winter (left) was harshly critical of the video game industry in the PTC's press release:
...a disturbing percentage of video game retailers are failing to prevent America’s children from purchasing violent and sexually graphic video games. Any failure rate is problematic, but the failure rate we’re seeing is downright pathetic. Similar to age restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, pornography and other products that are potentially harmful to children, parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.
It is outrageous that retailers are not exercising greater responsibility, and even more absurd that there are no meaningful consequences for those retailers who ignore their industry’s own age restriction policies...
The video game industry would have us believe that the 1/5 failure rate as reported by the FTC is acceptable and that parents need not worry. Our analysis shows a 1/3 failure rate. Perhaps the retailers felt the pressure was off after the FTC’s report was published... While we applaud Game Stop and Best Buy for their commitment to abide by their corporate age restriction policies, the other retailers should be ashamed and must act immediately to improve.
Winter also used the report as a platform to support new legislation introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). The bill targets video game ratings. GamePolitics coverage of the bill is upcoming.
Here is the data on various retailers as issued by the PTC (updated, as Blockbuster was left off of their original version):
M-RATED VIDEO GAMES
PTC Results (July 2008)
# of Stores
% Able to Purchase
Toys “R” Us
Various Local & Regional Stores
Here's something you don't see very often: a media watchdog group actually scaling back the Grand Theft Auto IV fear factor in the interest of presenting more accurate information.
But it's true. The Parents Television Council recently issued a a video alert which warns parents about the violence and sexual content in GTA IV.
On July 11th GamePolitics reported on the alert, which is narrated by PTC president Tim Winters. Among his criticisms of the game, Winters repeats the oft-heard, "You get points for [insert nasty activity of your choice]..."
In the latest edition of, the player is a thug who gets points for having sex with prostitutes, running over pedestrians and even shooting police officers.
There are no such points in the GTA series, of course. Never have been, despite the frequent assertion of such by watchdogs. At least two GamePolitics readers, hayabusa 75 and NecroSen, wrote to the PTC to voice their objections. Lo and behold, a few days later the PTC edited the "You get points for..." line out of the video.
GamePolitics received this comment on the change from Gavin McKiernan, National Grassroots Director for the PTC:
[Winters] misspoke. He knows there are no points in GTA and we of course want all of our productions to be completely factually accurate so we corrected it.
Catch the edited video alert here.
GP: While the viewpoint of the PTC is often at odds with that of gamers, credit is due for taking the trouble to correct this error. Kudos as well to the GP readers who contacted the PTC to point out the misinformation.
In a commentary for WorldNetDaily, singer Pat Boone frets that video games are part of a social upheaval which will cost America its very soul:
[While the presidential race takes place], there's another campaign in full swing, one perhaps even more crucial, one that will certainly determine the future of our country. One that will determine the direction and morality of our young. One that quite possibly will cost America its soul.
It's the campaign, in the world of entertainment to absolutely throw off every restraint, abandon every moral guideline, exploit every taboo and be free to portray and present anything human beings are capable of. In prime time and full color and without any regard for the sensibilities of parents or ministers or censors, or anybody else. On TV, in movies, in music even and especially in video games.
Target? Our young, virtually every age from grade school through college. The next generation – our future.
It seems that Boone serves on the board of watchdog group the Parents Television Council, a frequent critic of video game content. And while he singles out video games as especially worrisome, he mentions nary a one in his column, focusing instead on TV shows like Gossip Girl, Nip/Tuck and Sex and the City.
The good news is that Boone has a suggestion. If modern media content troubles you, just wind the clock back, oh, 70 years or so and listen to old radio shows:
Many adults, fed up completely... are doing the logical thing: tuning out and turning off. My friends Ed and Jean Lubin, whose three kids are mostly grown and on their own now, just told me they're spending their evenings out on their patio listening to old radio shows! Classic shows like "The Green Hornet," "The Lone Ranger," "Fibber McGee and Molly," "Abbot and Costello," "Jack Benny," dramatic and comedic and music shows from a time when entertainment was just that – entertainment...
GP: Gosh, he hardly sounds out of touch at all.
What's really ironic is that on the album pictured here, Boone sings lounge lizard arrangements of tunes like Alice Cooper's No More Mr. Nice Guy. Now, when Boone still actually had something of a career in the mid-70's, Alice Cooper was regarded by the mainstream much as Marilyn Manson is today.
Watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued a "entertainment alert" condemning Grand Theft Auto IV as well as the CBS TV series Swingtown.
PTC president Tim Winter narrates:
Unfortunately, sex and violence often go together in today's media environment. That's especially true for many of the violent video games that are now flooding the marketplace. Topping them all for worst content is Grand Theft Auto.
In the latest edition of, the player is a thug who gets points for having sex with prostitutes, running over pedestrians and even shooting police officers. And our research shows that many chidlren are able to buy this adult-rated video game far too easily. That's because the retailers don't have any consequenced for abiding by their own rules. We're asking major retailers to not carry this sick game at all...
You can also write Congress to ask them to pass the Video Games Rating Enforcement Act which will give teeth to the current ratings system.
GP: Thanks to Matt Paprocki for the heads-up!
When violent video game controveries flare, it's often said that critics are unintentionally increasing traffic to the game in question.
Such appears to be the case with The Torture Game 2.
The amateur, online game has been attracting no small amout of attention lately, including a parental alert from watchdog group the Parents Television Council.
The free game is available at online gaming portals Newgrounds and Kongregate.
But a message posted by Newgrounds guru Tom Fulp documents that the controversy is actually bringing many new players to the game:
The latest controversy has been surrounding The Torture Game 2, a fun little ragdoll physics engine that lets you do all sorts of horrible things to a lifeless dummy. Sensible Erection put together a gallery of all the fancy artwork you can create with TG2... at which point Derek Yu made a post about it on TIGSource and a whole debate erupted.
MSNBC picked up on the TIGSource debate and posted their own article about the game, but the real fun came when FOX News weighed in with a Fair & Balanced video, expressing their disgust while showing real-time footage of the person being tortured. Hey! At least we slapped a MATURE rating on the game and made you click a link to view it... Fox just dumped it into every living room in America!
As a result of their efforts, many more people are now enjoying The Torture Game 2.
The Fox News video mentioned by Fulp appears at left.
Last week GamePolitics reported on the controversy surrounding The Torture Game 2, an amateur online offering in which players inflict injury upon a defenseless human-like figure.
One News Now reports that media watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued an alert to parents about the game. The site quotes PTC exec Gavin McKiernan:
The Internet can be a great resource for kids... [But] parents need to be aware that there's [sic] so many negative things they can be doing – from chat rooms, where they expose themselves to sexual predators, to violent and depraved games and so-called entertainment like this.
...any kid who's sitting around playing the Torture Game or whose parents are allowing him to play Grand Theft Auto at home, is opening themselves up to a lot of potential negative repercussions that they may not realize for years.
The bill, introduced in Congress last month by Reps. Lee Terry (R-NE) and Jim Matheson (D-UT), would require game retailers to check IDs of mature-rated game buyers and would also mandate that information detailing the ESRB rating system be posted in view of customers.
From the PTC alert:
The proposed legislation codifies the video game industry’s own voluntary policies and will ensure better enforcement by requiring all retailers to check IDs from any child trying to buy or rent Mature (M)-rated or Adult-Only (AO) rated games. It does not limit adults’ access to any games they want to buy for themselves or for their children – it merely helps ensure that children can only access age appropriate video games if they are accompanied by an adult.
However, the Entertainment Consumers Association, representing video game consumers, has issued its own alert in opposition to HR5990:
The Video Games Rating Enforcement Act, is another Congressional attempt to unconstitutionally regulate the sale of video games. If it’s passed, the federal courts will find it unconstitutional – and at great expense to taxpayers.
By raising our voices now, we can let Congress know that we, as taxpayers and constituents, would rather they use their time and our money to discuss more pressing issues such as the war in Iraq, universal healthcare and the national economy.
Full Disclosure Dept: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics…
Taking the Parents Television Council up on an interview offer, Phil Villarreal of the Arizona Daily Star spoke with Dan Isett (left), PTC Director of Public Policy about Grand Theft Auto IV.
Along with a number of other watchdog groups, the PTC has been highly critical of GTA IV in recent days. Villarreal, however, reports that Isett's knowledge of what is actually in the game is a bit lacking:
Isett: I’ve actually played ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ and it’s right in keeping with previous versions. The series continues to lower the bar and this is the first game that has an alcohol content warning. You get points for driving drunk in this game.
Villarreal: You know that’s not true, right? The game doesn’t have points.
Isett: If nothing else, it’s a rewarded activity. Necessary for advancement.
Villarreal: I don’t think so.
Isett: But there’s an alcohol content warning and a scene of drunk driving, correct?
Villarreal: Yes. Did you play that part?
Isett: No, no. I didn’t get that far...
We've got additional reactions to yesterday's report by the Federal Trade Commission which gave high marks to the video game biz for its enforcement of ESRB ratings at point-of-sale.
A spokesman for State Senator Leland Yee (D), architect of California's contested video game law, remarked:
The Senator is pleased and commends retailers for significantly improving on the latest FTC study. Clearly retailers are much more cognizant of the potential harmful effects of ultra violent video games and are not selling such games to minors in as great a number.
With that said, it is imperative that the industry does more to prevent the sale of adult oriented games to children. Twenty percent of minors can still easily get their hands on games that are inappropriate for them. That equates to hundreds of thousands of children who are potentially in harm's way. The Senator looks forward to continuing his efforts and working with the various interested parties to end the sale of extremely violent video games to children.
Meanwhile, Gavin McKiernan, National Grassroots Director of the Parents Television Council, lauded GameStop for its 94% enforcement record, but said that, as a whole, the video game industry needs to do better: