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RATINGS RAISE IRE

Tabmags claim exemption in tagging rules

WASHINGTON – Television industry honchos will announce the much-debated new TV ratings system today with the expectation that such shows as “Inside Edition” and “American Journal” will be tagged with a rating. But that’s news to King World officials, who insisted Wednesday that its programs fall under the exemption for news programs in the ratings code.

Industry insiders have nailed down five separate categories of news programming that are exempt, including local and national news and weather, public affairs programming and financial news. They will also announce today that news magazines that regularly air in the evening also do not have to be tagged with the new television ratings labels.

But several sources who participated in the meetings insist that they did not intend to exempt tabmags like “Inside Edition” and Paramount Domestic Television’s “Hard Copy” from the ratings system.

“We expect everything to be rated that should be rated,” said one network source, adding that the web he reps has already warned King World that if it does not rate “Inside Edition” and “American Journal,” the network’s owned and operated stations will tag the shows for them. “If they don’t rate them, we will,” the source said.

Executives at King World said its syndicated newsmagazines “Inside Edition” and “American Journal” are no different than network primetime newsmagazines, and the company has no plans to rate the two shows.

“We feel we are exempted,” said Andy Friendly, an executive vice president at King World. “Many of our clearances are in the evening. We are the definition of a newsmagazine. It’s not even a close call.”

Friendly contends that the stories on network newsmagazines such as “Dateline NBC” are often identical to those on “Inside Edition.”

“The lines are so blurred they are nonexistent,” he said. “It’s very ironic that the (networks) who are so adamant about the First Amendment are suddenly being judgmental about our shows and labeling us as different from them.”

Friendly believes there are several reasons the networks are throwing the syndie newsmags to the wolves: “I think it’s a little bit of elitism, a little bit of trying to distance themselves from us and mostly, it’s competition. They know we’re winning journalism awards, competing with them and beating them on stories.”

King World does not oppose the committee’s decision that talkshows will be rated because all talkshows are being treated equally. However, a company spokesman conceded stations will be the final arbiters on rating the tabmags, at least until there’s a legal challenge.

“A station can disagree with any rating on any program,” said the King World spokesman. “Ultimately, it’s left up to local stations. Whether that will become a legal issue, I don’t know.”

Negotiations with Paramount continued even after the ratings group formally adopted the “parental guidelines” Wednesday night.

Pressure drop

If some syndicators fail to rate their programming, several sources said they would expect that public and industry pressure would quickly force the programs to comply. “This is going to work because of peer pressure,” one industry source said.

Despite the flair up over the definition of news programming, there have been relatively few changes to the rating system in the last few weeks. In one minor adjustment, the V-chip implementation group has changed the designation for ratings for programming acceptable for kids aged 7 and under from TV-K to TV-Y. They also switched the designation for programming unacceptable for kids under 7 from K-7 to TV-Y7. The group made the change because of a copyright conflict.

Other rating categories are as follows:

* TV-PG: parental guidance suggested;

* TV-14: parents strongly cautioned for children under 14;

* TV-M: programming designed for mature audiences only.

At least one network is already labeling programming in its production pipeline and all of the networks are expected to pledge today that they will begin rating all of the nonexempted shows by Jan. 1.

Wednesday, Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti, National Assn. of Broadcasters prexy Eddie Fritts and National Cable Television Assn. prexy Decker Anstrom made the rounds at the Federal Communications Commission, giving commissioners a preview of the ratings system that will officially be unveiled today. Several FCC sources said they were impressed by the presentation. More than one source said the ratings code was more thorough and exacting than they had anticipated after hearing from critics.

Vow to fight on

Several critics, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who started the V-chip push five years ago, have blasted the age-based rating system because they say it does not take into account the level of sex, violence and adult language in a particular show.

However, the leaders of his own party, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri), have expressed support for a 10-month marketplace trial of the proposed ratings system.

FCC sources said they were impressed by the detail of the content descriptions assigned to each particular category. For instance, TV-PG includes programming that may contain “infrequent coarse language, limited violence and some suggestive sexual dialogue and situations” while TV-M includes programs that includes “profane language, graphic violence and explicit sexual content.

“It seems they have designed the content (descriptions) with considerable care,” an FCC source said. FCC staffers said commissioners will reserve any final decision until the public comment period on the proposal closes. The comment period is expected to last at least six weeks.

In a press conference Wednesday, Markey and other opponents of the system vowed to continue their battle with the Valenti-led ratings effort. Markey also repeated his call for a head-to-head test between the system proposed today by the industry and a system that gives parents more information about the content of specific programs.

Critics of the industry system, including the National PTA, the American Psychological Assn. and the Center for Media Education, met with Vice President Gore Wednesday for 45 minutes. During the meeting, Gore assured the critics that the Clinton administration will “neither endorse or condemn” the industry proposal. Valenti, along with Fritts and Anstrom, are expected at the White House today to present their proposal formally to President Clinton. Last Friday, the president urged the critics to give the ratings system a chance to operate in the marketplace for at least 10 months.

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