Most Americans Offended by Sex and Violence on Television

by Jeffrey M. Jones

But fewer than half of viewers say Super Bowl halftime show offended them

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The controversial Super Bowl halftime show has brought the issue of decency on television to the forefront of American dialogue. Yesterday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell called the halftime show "a new low for prime-time television," and told Congress that the agency is investigating whether CBS (the network airing the Super Bowl) violated decency laws. Powell also called on the entertainment industry to take steps to reduce the amount of objectionable content on television.

A recent Gallup Poll shows that most Americans say they are offended by sex, violence, and profanity on television, and believe the entertainment industry should take corrective measures. Still, less than half of those who saw the Super Bowl halftime show say they were offended by the incident involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

The poll was conducted Feb. 6-8 and finds 75% of Americans saying the entertainment industry should make a serious effort to reduce the amount of sex and violence in its movies, television shows, and music, while 24% say this isn't necessary. This is actually lower than what Gallup found in 1995, when 83% of Americans said the entertainment industry needed to make a serious effort. A closer look at the data suggests this shift in the past decade could be due to increasingly tolerant views among younger Americans. While those aged 50 and older today show little difference in their views on this question compared with those similar in age in 1995, those under age 50 today -- especially those between the ages of 18 and 29 -- are less likely to believe the entertainment industry should take corrective action than did Americans of similar ages nearly a decade ago. Now, less than half (47%) of 18- to 29-year-olds believe the entertainment industry has an obligation to reduce sex and violence in its movies, television shows, and music.

What Is Offensive?

Similar majorities of Americans say they are offended by each of four specific types of possibly objectionable content on television. Sixty-one percent say they are offended by violence on television, 58% by profanity, 58% by sexual content, and 52% by homosexuality.

Reaction of Americans to
Content on Television
Feb. 6-8, 2004

Age strongly predicts whether a person finds such content offensive. For all four items tested, younger Americans are much less likely than older Americans to be offended, with each successive age group more likely than the previous one to be offended. In fact, less than a majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 find any of the content offensive.

Percentage of Americans Offended by
Content on Television,
by Age
Feb. 6-8, 2004

Super Bowl Halftime Show

One outcome of the FCC investigation will be a decision as to whether CBS should be fined or penalized in some way for airing the Super Bowl halftime show, which included the now-infamous scene where Justin Timberlake removed part of Janet Jackson's clothing. Forty-seven percent of Americans say they saw this incident live during the Super Bowl halftime show, but slightly less than half of this group -- 45%, which translates to 21% of all Americans -- say they were offended by it. The FCC reports it has received more than 200,000 complaints regarding this issue.

VIEWS OF SUPER BOWL HALFTIME INCIDENT INVOLVING JANET JACKSON AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

 

Saw the incident live,
offended by it

Saw the incident live,
not offended by it

Did not see the incident live


No
opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

21%

26

53

*

* Less than 0.5%



Most Americans, 64%, feel that CBS should not be fined or penalized for broadcasting the event, while 33% say CBS should be penalized in some way. This is consistent with the results of the 1995 poll, which showed that even though Americans overwhelmingly believed that the entertainment industry should try to reduce sex and violence in its movies, television shows, and music, only about one-third said the government should regulate this.

CBS claims not to have known the halftime incident would take place, a position supported by Timberlake and Jackson. CBS took steps to prevent the broadcast of a potentially similar incident by tape-delaying this past week's Grammy Awards, and future live events on all networks may contain similar delays.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,008 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Feb. 6-8, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

11. In your view, does the entertainment industry need to make a serious effort to significantly reduce the amount of sex and violence in its movies, television shows and music, or don't you think they need to do this?

 

Make serious effort

Don't need to make serious effort

No
opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

75%

24

1

1995 Jun 5-6

83%

16

1



12. In general, would you say you, personally, are offended -- or not offended -- by [RANDOM ORDER] you see/hear on television?

A. Profanity or swear words

 

Yes, offended

No, not offended

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

58%

41

1



B. Violence

 

Yes, offended

No, not offended

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

61%

37

2



C. Sexual content

 

Yes, offended

No, not offended

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

58%

41

1



D. Homosexuality

 

Yes, offended

No, not offended

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

52

46

2



Thinking about the Super Bowl half-time show in which Justin Timberlake removed part of Janet Jackson's clothing,

13. Did you happen to see this incident live on TV when it happened during half-time of the Super Bowl, or not?

 

Yes

No

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

47%

53

*

* Less than 0.5%



14. Were you, personally, offended by the incident, or not?

BASED ON 458 ADULTS WHO SAW THE INCIDENT LIVE ON TV DURING HALFTIME OF THE SUPER BOWL

 

Yes

No

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

45%

55

*

* Less than 0.5%



15. Do you think CBS, the network televising the Super Bowl, should -- or should not -- be fined or penalized in some way for broadcasting the incident?

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8

33%

64

3



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