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FCC approves television ratings, v-chip, but criticisms continue

WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government’s approval of the television ratings system, as well as the implementation of the technology to utilize it, has not deactivated the debate about its worthiness.
The Federal Communications Commission accepted the television industry’s voluntary ratings in its March 12 meeting. The FCC also approved rules for installation of the “v-chip,” the equipment required by Congress in its 1996 Telecommunications Act to enable programs to be blocked from viewing.
The FCC rules require manufacturers to include the v-chip in at least half their models with a picture screen of 13 inches or larger by July 1, 1999. All models of that size and larger have to include the v-chip by Jan. 1, 2000. Boxes with v-chip capability for existing television sets are expected to be available even earlier.
The technology is intended to allow parents to block programming with certain ratings from being viewed in their homes. The system instituted, voluntarily but under pressure, by the industry last year uses the general ratings 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. In August, the ratings were revised to add content warnings: V for violence; S for sexual situations; L for foul language; and D for suggestive dialogue.
NBC, however, has refused to include the V, S, L and D warnings.
The v-chip may be used to block programming by general categories, content ratings or a combination of the two.
The FCC’s acceptance of the system has not silenced critics from inside and outside the TV industry. Among the criticisms are: Viewers don’t pay attention to the ratings; the ratings, which are selected by the networks, are inconsistent; and the ratings give producers cover to show more violence and sex.
A recent Associated Press poll found about 70 percent of adults, including 51 percent of parents, say they pay little or no attention to the ratings, USA Today reported. A Wirthlin survey for Morality in Media, an interfaith, anti-obscenity organization, showed only 28 percent of Americans think a ratings system is an effective alternative to FCC enforcement of the indecency law.
The FCC should have rejected the industry ratings system and devised one that provided “objective information,” said Morality in Media President Robert Peters in a written statement.
“If the FCC is permitted to hide behind this sham system instead of enforcing the broadcast indecency law; if Congress doesn’t act now to extend the ban on indecent broadcast until 12 midnight and require the FCC to enforce the indecency law, then the struggle for decency in the public media is over — indecency has won,” Peters said.
“What is so desperately needed from the TV industry is a clean-up project, not labels on an unremitting flow of moral garbage.”
The broadcast indecency ban exists from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission praised the system when it added V, S, L and D content ratings last year.
“None of this discussion about the ratings system should make us forget that the networks are ultimately responsible for the content of their programs,” said Will Dodson, the ERLC’s director of public policy. “A ratings system does not diminish that responsibility. Furthermore, neither a ratings system nor the technology to take advantage of it diminishes the responsibilities of parents to make wise choices about the quality and quantity of programs that their children watch and that they watch.”
In addition to two categories for children’s programming, programs designed for general audiences are rated as follows:
— TV-G: General audience — Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages.
— TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested — This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children.
— TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned — This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.
— TV-MA: Mature audience only — This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.
The rating symbols appear in the upper left corner of the picture frame for the first 15 seconds of each program.