LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A television watchdog group on Thursday asked the U.S. government to open a child pornography investigation into the new MTV series "Skins."
The Parents Television Council, which has 1.3 million members, said the drama about, and starring, teens as young as 15 years old could violate U.S. laws against the sexual exploitation of minors and statutes against child pornography.
"Skins," a drama series about misfit teens who dabble in drink, drugs and sex, made its debut on youth-oriented MTV on Sunday.
On Thursday, fast food chain Taco Bell, owned by Yum Brands Inc, pulled its commercials from the program.
The show, based on the British series of the same name, attracted 3.3 million U.S. viewers, the vast majority between ages 12 and 34, according to TV ratings figures.
In a letter to the Justice Department and the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary committees, the PTC called for an immediate investigation "regarding child pornography and exploitation on MTV's "Skins."
"Many of the actors appearing in the show are below the age of 18. It is clear that Viacom (which owns MTV) has knowingly produced material that may well be in violation of any or all of the following federal statutes," the PTC letter added, citing four U.S. statutes.
U.S. child pornography laws forbid the visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Those under the age of 18 are considered to be minors.
MTV on Thursday declined to comment specifically on the PTC request for a government probe.
But the network said in a statement: "Skins is a show that addresses real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way. We review all of our shows and work with all of our producers on an ongoing basis to ensure our shows comply with laws and community standards.
"We are confident that the episodes of Skins will not only comply with all applicable legal requirements, but also with our responsibilities to our viewers. We also have taken numerous steps to alert viewers to the strong subject matter so that they can choose for themselves whether it is appropriate," the statement added.
Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch told the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that the company had "decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programing."
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that MTV executives had ordered producers of "Skins" to make changes that would tone down some of the content.
The newspaper said the cable network was particularly concerned about an episode due to be shown at the end of January in which a 17 year-old actor is shown from behind as he runs down the street naked.
Even before Sunday's premier of "Skins," the Parents Television Council had labeled the show "the most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children" and had called on advertisers to boycott the series.
Editing by Vicki Allen