Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just How Friendly IS This Act?

Who's paying attention to a movie screen 30,000 feet above sea level? How much does it matter what's being shown? According to Jesse Kalisher and many other parents, the answer is their kids, and a lot.

Both the New York Times and MSNBC wrote the story. Kalisher was flying with his kids when the 2005 version of King Kong appeared on the movie screen. The film is rated by the motion picture association to be PG-13, which means parents should be strongly cautioned their kids may not be able to handle what's on-screen.

Although Kalisher's kids were asleep, he was worried that if they HAD been awake they would have been quite disturbed by the images they saw on the big screen. He thought movies with violence should not be allowed on flights where kids could see them. When the plane landed, Kalisher swung into action. He contacted other parents whom he felt would feel the same. Together, they tried to persuade airlines with publicly viewable screens to stop showing movies that are unsuitable for children, meaning anything that wasn't a G or PG, or TV shows rated TV-G.

Kalisher was quoted in MSNBC as saying, "Airlines have the choice to show whatever they want, but as parents we have the responsibility to protect our kids from images of murder, torture and death.”

The airlines, however, weren't moved by this parent's quest to find his children friendlier airwaves. The Air Transport Association and the World Airline Entertainment Association were both unwilling to make changes. According to the New York Times article, federal broadcasting laws do not apply to in-flight entertainment, and airlines do not have to follow motion picture ratings. Also, the airlines have a responsibility to ever passenger on board, not just the ones with children.

After the airplane industry didn't take much interest, Kalisher and other parents took their mission one step forward. On September 25th, 2007, Two North Carolina Representatives: Heath Shuler, a Democrat, and Walter Jones, a Republican, introduced a piece of federal legislation known as the Family Friendly Flight Act. This legislation would require all flights showing movies that are deemed unsuitable for children to offer separate seating for families.

According to the website of these parents, "The bill introduced in The U.S. House of Representatives in September has no effect whatsoever on which films the airlines show on personal screens. It also has no effect on the seating configuration for planes that don't have publicly viewable (or overhead) screens. Further, it has no impact on flights with overhead screens when the films shown are rated G or PG and the television content is rated TV-G. The FFFA does require airlines to create a section on the aircraft where kids won't be exposed to the media content when there is a) an overhead or publicly viewable screen and b) the film show is rated PG-13 or R and/or the television content is rated TV-MA (for mature audiences)."

Although this paragraph stresses the seating plans of planes would not have to change it seems the only two options that would seemingly work to ensure that families with children would be able to avoid violent movies. Either a) have a separate section on a plane where the screen can't be seen-i.e. similar to a first class or business section of a plane or b) have individual-sized monitors on the back of each person's seat. Many flights have started to offer the latter, not in accordance with this act but rather because of convenience of their customers.

Not only that, but how often would an entire family section be able to fill up with strictly families? Other, non-kid holding people would be at times forced to sit in these sections. Several bloggers on the subject referenced their inability to sit next to screaming kids on a flight, labeling that the real tragedy on a plane.

Others have cited concern that any step towards controlling what goes on-screen WILL have an affect on the First Amendment rights of people-even if inadvertently. This particular blogger worried that such rules might soon extend to bars and restaurants.

Some bloggers, who have kids but don't think that a law should be passed about issues like this, think there are other viable options in protecting the safety of their children. Adam D. Thierer is one of them. He agrees that constitutional challenges to this proposed act would follow any efforts to set it into motion. Thierer offers a list of alternatives to this plan.

1) Renting or bringing a portable DVD player and headphones so that your kids can watch the programming you want them to, without disturbing others. (side note: The parents who want The Family Friendly Flight Act passed also advocate that not only should a child NOT be subjected to watching anything that could be jeopardizing on the big screen, but that if a person next to them is watching an individual screen (such as their own DVD player) that this should be kid-friendly as well.)
2) The individual screens on the backs of seats, with a privacy film over the screens so in case children are sitting next to a passenger, the children would be unable to view what is being shown. This film is already prevalent on laptops for privacy so that people watching at an angle other than straight on would not be able to see the screen clearly and properly.
3) Airplanes could voluntarily offer the kind of seating asked by the Congressmen in the first place.

Although there are many mixed opinions on the subject, another fact that people are forgetting is that movies already come to the plane's "big screen" edited for content. Any sex scenes or other graphic scenes are taken out, such as they would be for a television station. Many parents still feel that this isn't enough, and the violence is not nearly edited down enough. The New York Times cited the movie "Fracture," where Anthony Hopkins shoots his wife in the face. On the airplanes, they don't show the actual shot, but passengers do see him shoot and the blood on the head. Arguably, this may not be enough.

So what is the answer? Cleaner airwaves would make some happy, but others uncomfortable, for varying reasons. There's no easy way to accommodate everyone, but as for now it seems any bit of compromise is best in order to make sure people get their money's worth. That's really the bottom line: people who pay for a flight should get what they pay for.


Ashley Kalena said...

First off, this topic really interests me and caught my eye.

The pictures included in your article are confusing because they are all lumped up at the top of the page. They should be dispersed through the article in a manner that makes sense.

Towards the top of the article, you link to the mpaa several times in your links. I think just once would have sufficed, however I do understand that you want to attribute the information.

You reference Jesse Kalisher quite a bit and I think this worked because it humanized the story more.

I didn't know there was a World Airline Entertainment Association, so I like that you included the link to this website.

You offered both sides to the issue in the form of the parents and senators who are backing this bill but also regular people. I especially enjoy the blog about the screaming kids. This is so funny and I think a lot of people can really relate to this.

Towards the end of the piece, the listing of the alternatives worked well. However, there were no links in this section and I think some more reference could have worked better. I do like the side note you include here about portable DVD players being subjected to this new bill if passed.

Overall, I think you covered a lot of ground with this piece. It had a good flow - starting off with general information, introducing the bill and then ending with the alternatives. I also like how you ended it. It brought the article to a close, yet left room for more because this problem isn't solved yet.

Ashley Kalena said...

Just more more note - the federal legislation link - just so people know, it should be noted as a PDF file because sometimes they can be a pain to open and some people might not have the software for it.

Also, the airlines link didn't really work me becauuse I expected to see some airline company and not the NATA website, so maybe just NATA and not airlines.