FCC adopts TV rating system, requires v-chip by 2000

Friday, March 13, 1998

The Federal Communications Commission on March 12 officially approved a voluntary rating system crafted last year by broadcasters, parent advocacy groups and the Motion Picture Association of America.

While the rating system remains a voluntary program, the commission ordered manufacturers to begin making television sets that can block programs based on those rating codes. The new TVs equipped with the blocking technology, called V-chips, are expected to be available by the end of the year.

According to new commission rules, television manufacturers must include V-chips on at least half of their models with picture screens of 13 inches or larger by July 1, 1999, and on all of their products by Jan. 1, 2000. The commission also requires personal computers with television tuners and 13-inch screens or larger to include the V-chip.

The V-chip is designed to read the six age-group designations, which range from Y, which is rated suitable for children of all ages to TV-MA, which is rated unsuitable for children under 17. Parents could also block programming designated with content codes: V for violence, S for sexual content, L for foul language and D for sexually suggestive dialogue.

The rating system was developed last year by broadcasters, parent advocacy groups and the MPAA in response to the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act. That law required the television industry to find ways to enable parents to block objectionable programs from their homes.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., credited for coining the term “V-chip” and sponsor of a sponsor of the Telecommunications Act, praised the commission for giving parents more control over what their children watch on television.

“Only with the approval of both halves do we now have a whole,” Markey said in a prepared statement. “Just as the V-chip without ratings is like a car without gas, the ratings system without the V-chip is like gas without a car.”

In a joint statement, officials from the MPAA, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association also lauded the commission for finding the rating system acceptable.

But Adam Wildmon, spokesman for the American Family Association, denounced the rating system and V-chip, saying it would create even more unsuitable programming.

“This V-chip is going to open the floodgates for more explicit sexual content and language than we have ever seen before in our nation,” Wildmon said. “As in the past, the networks are saying that they have absolutely no responsibility to society whatsoever of the type of television programming that is aired.”

FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani disagreed, saying the rating codes coupled with the blocking technology give parents more control.

“The V-chip will not relieve parents of the responsibility of determining what their children watch on TV,” Tristani said in a statement after the commission's ruling. “It will help them fulfill that responsibility. Those who urge parents to simply turn off the shows they do not want their children to see should welcome the V-chip.”