Does "Skins" Cross the Line into Child Pornography?

Georgene Rice interviews Melissa Henson, the Director of Communications with the Parent’s Television Counsel. They have called for an investigation of “Skins”, a new show on MTV, charging they may have crossed the line into child pornography.  The Parent’s TV Counsel called it “the most dangerous program that has ever been fousted on our children.”

Unlike MTV’s envelope-pushing shows of the past, “Skins” features underage actors engaged in sexual situations.  The youngest star of the show is only 15. If the actor is under the age of consent, possessing that raw footage may be problematic for MTV. This situation presents a minefield of legal issues that may have not been considered prior to filming.

Georgene: Tell us about this new program “Skins”.

Melissa: It’s based on a series that aired on BBC America a couple of years ago. It’s supposed to be a very gritty look at the life of typical adolescents in America, but I think most people would find that this is not the typical experiences of most American teenagers. It focuses very heavily on teen sexual activity without any consequences for their behavior. There is a lot of depiction of underage drug use and alcohol consumption. MTV stands by this show 100%. That in itself may be troubling enough, but the fact they are using underage actors to portray these characters is especially disturbing.

Georgene: There is some concern that there may have been child pornography laws that were violated, not just in the first episode but others we hear have been edited. They  were produced by MTV and are in the possession of MTV.

Melissa: Yes, the New York Times reported that one of the episodes was edited that depicted one of the underage actors, a 17 year old male, fully naked from behind. The producer was asked to edit the image so they wouldn’t be in violation, but the fact that they have that footage is problematic. They are walking so close to the line. That they are having discussions about editing images shows that they have gone too far already.

Georgene: The Parent Television Counsel is calling upon the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and the Department of Justice to open an investigation. What do you hope to have happen and how might they respond to that request?

Melissa: There are a number of statutes that MTV may be in violation of already. We are encouraging that they do a thorough investigation of the content of episodes that may air in the future and those that have already aired. Also, any footage that may have been cut from an episode because by just being in possession of inappropriate images of underage children could put them into deep trouble legally.

I hope this will send a clear message to MTV that they have already gone too far and they need to correct their course with this program.

Georgene: How likely do you think it is that the federal government is going to take this call for an investigation seriously and hold MTV accountable as they would if it was an average citizen engaged in the same kind of pornography?

Melissa: That is difficult to know. I think it would be worthwhile for others to speak out by contacting the Chairman of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and urge them to look into this as well. I think it is appropriate to bring public pressure to bear on this topic because it is important. We certainly don’t want to create a new standard where depicting minors in highly sexualized scenarios is going to be acceptable on television.

Georgene: That is precisely how the envelope is pushed. You allow certain things and soon you have the kind of European-style entertainment that involves underage children.

Melissa: And we don’t want it to get to that point. We need to keep the pressure on MTV and  on the companies that sponsor that program, and as I said, the Judiciary Committees and the DOJ. We have information on our website, , for folks who want to take action.

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