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6/5/97 TV industry agrees to revise its ratings

WASHINGTON (BP)–The television industry, faced with increasing pressure from Congress and a reported rebellion by at least one network, has agreed to modify its five-month-old ratings system.
Television executives told congressional critics in a June 4 meeting in Washington they would meet with child advocacy groups during the next two weeks and seek to work out a compromise, The Washington Post reported. While industry representatives did not commit to adding the letters “S,” “V” and “L” to the current ratings to indicate sexual content, violence and foul language, they appear prepared to do so if Congress is willing to withdraw related legislation under consideration, according to The Post.
“If we went to V-S-L, and everyone said ‘terrific,’ we would take that deal,” a TV executive said, The Post reported June 5.
The industry’s action came only a day after The Post reported Fox, as well as Ted Turner’s cable networks and probably ABC, would add S-V-L to the current ratings, likely before June 20.
The criticism of the current ratings system since it was proposed in December and instituted in January has been its failure to provide parents with specific information in choosing programs suitable for viewing. The system is age-based instead of content-based, using TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-M, much like the motion picture industry uses G, PG, PG-13 and R in its ratings. Currently, a rating appears in the upper left corner of the picture frame for the first 15 seconds of a program.
After news of the breakaway effort led by Fox was revealed, Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission President Richard Land said, “Three cheers for Fox. May the other networks heed their example and do likewise.
“The action of Fox and possibly at least one other network to take this step reveals both the woeful inadequacy of the current rating systems and the fact that at least some networks do listen when the public voices its concern.”
The TV executives met with Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz.; Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind.; Rep. Edward Markey, D.-Mass.; and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R.-La.
Coats has introduced legislation forbidding the Federal Communications Commission to renew a TV station’s license unless it implemented a content-based ratings system providing information on the sex, violence and language in its programs. If the industry fails to make progress, McCain said the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs, would vote on Coats’ bill June 18, two days before the FCC holds a hearing on the ratings system, The Post reported. Some TV executives hope to avoid embarrassment by resolving the controversy before then, according to The Post.
“I am prepared to legislate, if necessary, but I would prefer to work out an agreement with the television industry whereby they would voluntarily put into place a content-based ratings system,” Coats said in a written statement after the meeting. “It is my hope this is the direction we are moving in, because the current system does not provide parents the information we need.”
The Commerce Committee already has approved a bill by Sen. Ernest Hollings requiring violent programs be labeled as such or not be shown until after 10 p.m. Markey has introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives.