Hoping to ward off threatened federal legislation, the television industry agreed July 9 to modify its current age-based ratings system and better identify program content.
Under the agreement, the networks will add content codes to their ratings beginning Oct. 1. The codes will include the letter S for sex, L for language, V for violence and D for suggestive dialogue, and FV for fantasy violence (in cartoon shows).
ABC, CBS and Fox agreed to the changes in negotiations with parent groups, but NBC has not agreed to the new system. A statement from NBC said, “There is no place for government involvement in what people watch on television.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who announced the agreement, said, “I think this is a great victory for the parents. This is a family victory.”
Vice President Al Gore called the new system “a major step forward to give parents the tools they need” to protect children from offensive programming.
The new ratings system is designed to work with the V-chip, a new feature that will be inside nearly every new television set beginning next year. The chip is designed to let parents program their televisions to screen out programs based on ratings.
The television industry’s original ratings system, mirroring the age-based ratings system of the movie industry, was introduced late last year. Family organizations criticized the ratings, saying that they did not provide enough information to help parents make informed decisions. Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, condemned that ratings system as “an insult to parents everywhere, and a clear sign that Hollywood has no intention of curbing sex, violence and foul language on television.”
Television industry leaders agreed to the new ratings system in exchange for an understanding that Congress would not pursue legislation on program content for “a substantial period.”
Morality in Media President Robert Peters said the new ratings system is an improvement, but still inadequate. “The revamped system, however, still does not provide parents with enough information about the kinds of sex, vulgarity or violence that earned the rating,” said Peters. “An oversight board dominated by industry reps will not provide the unbiased judgment an independent board would provide.”
Peters also expressed concern about the agreement that television executives extracted from Congress in return for the ratings system. “It is one thing to ‘agree’ to a reasonable period of forbearance regarding legislation pertaining to TV ratings. It is another to block needed legislation providing the TV industry with an exemption from antitrust laws to permit it to develop its own code of program standards, extending the ban on broadcast indecency until 12 midnight and regulating indecent content on cable TV,” he said. “If [Congress has] ‘agreed’ to forbear from enacting antitrust and indecency legislation, they have sold the soul of America’s children for a bowl of watery pottage.”
Peters concluded, “What parents and the large majority of all Americans want are sound program standards and responsibility on the part of the TV industry. Ratings and the ‘V-Chip’ can help parents but cannot alone adequately protect against the increasingly toxic floodtide of morally offensive and socially irresponsible programming.”
— E.P. News