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TV industry, except NBC, agrees to revised ratings

WASHINGTON (BP)–The television industry, minus one network, has agreed to revise its six-month-old ratings system to include new symbols to warn viewers about programs that include sex, violence and offensive language.
The cable and broadcast networks, except for NBC, have committed to use letters at the start of programs to denote specific content. The new ratings will be S for sexual depictions, V for violence, L for foul language and D for suggestive dialogue. The new system will go into effect Oct. 1, The Washington Post reported July 10.
The agreement worked out by TV industry leaders in discussions with child advocacy and parents organizations, as well as members of Congress, was announced officially at the White House July 10.
The new symbols will be added to the oft-criticized, age-based ones in effect since January. The criticism of the current ratings system has been its failure to provide parents with specific information in choosing programs suitable for viewing. The system uses 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. The revised system will use larger symbols, The Post reported.
Under the revised system, a TV program such as the controversial “NYPD Blue” could carry a TV-14-SVLD rating.
The new system will include an additional symbol, FV, for children’s programs that include “fantasy violence,” The Post reported.
In announcing the agreement, Vice President Al Gore said, “Today, America’s parents have won back their living room.
“I recently met with some parent groups, and I wasn’t surprised with what they told me: Age-based ratings were very helpful but not enough. Parents needed to know more. They need to know about the television images their children will see. And they need to know about the language and dialogue their children will hear.”
NBC refused to support the new system and said it would provide its own advisories, according to The Post.
“While we believe that more information is useful to parents, NBC is concerned that the ultimate aim of the current system’s critics is to dictate programming content,” the network said in a statement, The Post reported.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, praised the agreement and called the new system “much-improved and much more informative.”
“This is not about censorship,” Land said. “It’s about giving parents the information they need to make informed decisions about the programs their children watch on television. This is a significant, positive step in empowering parents in the continuing struggle to protect impressionable, developing young minds from the many destructive ‘adult’ influences to which they are far too often subjected in our culture.
“I am distressed the National Broadcasting Co. has decided not to participate in this much more helpful and detailed ratings system,” Land commented. “I would encourage all Southern Baptists to pray that the executives at NBC would change their minds and that they seriously consider putting action behind their prayers by writing NBC and expressing their strong desire for NBC to join their fellow networks in taking this very positive step to empower parents.”
Those desiring to write NBC may address correspondence to: Robert Wright, President/CEO; NBC; 30 Rockefeller Plaza; New York, NY 10112.
In the future, parents will be able to use a V-chip to program their TV sets to block shows with a certain rating. Congress has required all new sets contain a V-chip by February 1998.
The Post reported in early June the TV industry, faced with increasing pressure from Congress, was willing to modify its ratings system. In March, Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind., 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. The Senate Commerce Committee had approved a bill by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D.-S.C., requiring violent programs be labeled as such or not be shown until after 10 p.m.