We've Got Hollywood Covered

FCC Asks: Is the V-Chip Working?

Begins receiving filings on content-blocking technologies.

Monday was the final day for the Federal Communications Commission to receive filings on the effectiveness of current TV content ratings and the V-chip to see if it should step in to make changes.

It’s getting an earful. And what it’s hearing is anything but consistent.

The voluntary content ratings are “deeply flawed,” and the V-chip is “a failure” because programmers are way too involved in determining the ratings, says one consumer group.

No, wait … the biggest problem is that ads aren’t rated. The feds need to make sure that inappropriate ad content — including those for movies aimed at a mature audience — can be automatically blocked, say other consumer groups.

No, there’s no justification for rating TV ads, say advertisers, Hollywood studios, broadcasters and cable systems.

No decisions are expected soon. But the filings are the result of a request from Congress, as part of the Child Safe Viewing Act adopted last year, that the FCC examine “the existence and availability” of “next-generation” blocking technologies like the V-chip. The commission is to report back to Congress by Aug. 29 on whether additional steps are needed.


In filings, some critics argued that the current system is little more than a joke. Because content is rated so inconsistently by TV and cable networks, and because commercials aren’t rated at all, the V-chip offers little protection for parents — even if they do understand how to use it.

“The current system of industry-controlled television ratings used in conjunction with the V-chip is a failure,” the Parents Television Council wrote. It called ratings assigned “inaccurate and inconsistent” and blamed the “clear and unavoidable conflicts of interest” of content providers rating their own programming.

“To put this in context, material like sadistic and masochistic sex with erotic nipple piercing, tongue bondage with electrocution and other erotic sexual stimulants and sex toys have been rated as being appropriate for a 14-year-old child,” the group said.

Another set of consumer groups — including Children Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association — was more supportive, but said that the lack of ratings for TV ad content was a problem.

“Sexual and violent content is not limited to television shows but is found increasingly in the commercials that accompany regular programming,” the groups said.

They urged the FCC to require commercials be rated, then allow parents to use the V-chip to block some — or in some cases, block programs containing product placements. And they urged the FCC to set requirements for alcohol ads, certain drug ads and ads for movies aimed at a mature audience to carry a “descriptor” that could be blocked by the V-chip.

Then there are the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Motion Picture Association of America. a joint filing, they rejected any need for changes and warned that any attempt by the government to mandate ratings changes would be confusing, “unlawful and unworkable.”

“The record emphatically demonstrated that parents have more options to control their children’s use of media that ever before,” they said. They called criticism of the ratings system “unfounded” and urged the commission to tell Congress that innovation and existing technology are fulfilling the needs for parent empowerment.

They also said it would be impractical to have an independent group do ratings.

The Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies warned against rating ads and said the move would be a “radical” expansion that is  “unsound, impractical” and would “create a bureaucratic nightmare.”

“Separately rating advertisements and potentially enabling their deletion from the programming they support will eviscerate the programs economic viability while raising serious legal and administrative problems,” they said.