HealthZette

Netflix Faces Continued Heat Over ’13 Reasons Why’

Parents Television Council wants program made unavailable to young people in light of connection to increased suicides

The Parents Television Council (PTC) has issued a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and to members of the Netflix board of directors asking the subscription-based streaming company to justify why it continues to keep “13 Reasons Why” on its platform.

The television show has been linked, through research, to an increase in suicides among children. Its first episode aired in March 2017.

Since 1995, the PTC, a non-partisan education organization based in Los Angeles, has been sounding the alarm about inappropriate viewing material for kids and advocating for content that is more suitable for children. The group is now urging people to sign a petition asking Netflix to stop the distribution of “13 Reasons Why.”

The PTC has been unrelenting in its efforts on this front. On Wednesday morning, Tim Winter, the group’s president, told LifeZette exactly why.

“I was recently a guest on a live national radio show where I took listener calls — two of which were from fathers who lost their children to suicide,” he told LifeZette. “It is imperative that entertainment media companies understand there can be real-world harm from the content they produce.”

As for how the group cuts through the often overwrought media landscape to get its message out, Winter said, “We are holding individual members of the corporate board of directors for Netflix personally accountable for distributing a product linked to the deaths of children.”

Related: Here’s Why We Don’t Need ’13 Reasons Why’

The group shared its compelling letter to Netflix with LifeZette. Winter wrote the following message in a letter dated May 16, 2019.

“At the Netflix annual shareholder meeting approximately one year ago, you responded to a question put forth by the Parents Television Council about the renewal of ’13 Reasons Why’ for a second season,” he wrote. “We asked how you could justify keeping a show on the air that was linked to a 26 percent increase in Google searches on how to commit suicide. You arrogantly dismissed our concern, saying that the program is ‘enormously popular and successful … but nobody has to watch it.'”

“Now the National Institutes of Health has linked the release of ’13 Reasons Why’ with a 30 percent increase in suicides among children ages 10-17, ostensibly confirming our worst fears from a year ago,” the letter continued. “The NIH findings support research from the University of Michigan last November suggesting that at-risk children believed ’13 Reasons Why’ increased their suicide risk.”

“How many children must die before you decide that this ‘popular’ program is no longer ‘successful’?” Winter wrote. “And how can a publicly traded corporation, and its officers and board of directors, continue to stand behind the distribution of a product that is linked to children committing suicide?”

Here’s the rest of the letter — all of it relevant and compelling.

“Your company’s own research, led by scholars at Northwestern University, proved that the program can have a positive impact on its viewers. The results of recent research conducted by the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania also found a positive impact from ’13 Reasons Why’; but that research addressed the impact to adults, not to children. There can be no reasonable conclusion that ’13 Reasons Why’ has zero impact. Do you simply ignore the research that demonstrates a negative impact? How much harm are you willing to inflict along the way?”

“Any product intentionally placed into the stream of commerce that is linked to children hurting or killing themselves should be voluntarily removed until it can be proven to be safe,” Winter continued. “Instead, your company keeps that product in the stream of commerce, only adding video warnings. And while we applaud a heightened awareness and concern for sexual assault and suicide, Netflix added those video warnings to the program not because the program is safe for children, but precisely because it is dangerous.”

“I sincerely but fervently call on you to take immediate steps to protect children from a product that your company has placed into the stream of commerce and which is linked to children taking their own lives.”

“We are blessed as Americans to have a constitutionally protected right to free speech; but just because we have a right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right thing to do. The right thing for you to do is to remove ’13 Reasons Why’ from your distribution platform unless and until it can be proven not to be harmful to children,” he added. “And the right thing for you to do is to implement a pricing structure that allows Netflix subscribers to opt-out of receiving and paying for sexually explicit, graphically violent, and harshly profane programming.”

“Netflix recently removed controversial footage from Bird Box, demonstrating that the company is willing to make changes to program content when it wants to do so,” Winter noted in his conclusion. “You should want to do so here. I sincerely but fervently call on you to take immediate steps to protect children from a product that your company has placed into the stream of commerce and which is linked to children taking their own lives. If you won’t do it, then I hereby call on the Netflix board of directors — each of whom is copied on this letter — to demand it.”

“Please, Mr. Hastings, do the right thing,” Winter finished — and listed each member of the board of directors.

As the NIH points out, “Suicidal thoughts or actions (even in very young children) are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide prevention line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Text Line: Text ‘home’ to 741741.”

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