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TV ratings system in spin cycle

WASHINGTON – There is still one week to go before MPAA prexy Jack Valenti is slated to officially unveil the new TV ratings system, but both opponents and proponents of the proposed code are already busy spinning the press.

A coalition of more than 30 groups led by the Center for Media Education, the American Psychological Assn. and the Children’s Defense Fund are scheduled to attack the content code this morning. Valenti has scheduled his own press conference at the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s D.C. headquarters to counterspin.

The code’s critics oppose the proposed ratings system’s reliance on age-based categories similar to the ones now used by the MPAA. They want a ratings system that gives parents specific information about the amount of sex, violence and adult language used in each TV program.

The kidvid advocates have been pushing Valenti to create the content-based ratings system in private meetings during the last year. “Clearly they have met for the last 10 months but they have not listened,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Media Education.

Industry honchos involved in creating the ratings system during the last 10 months insist that a content-based system is unworkable for television programming. They said it would be physically impossible to provide detailed ratings for the hundreds of thousands of hours of TV programs airing each year.

Under the proposed TV code, programs would get one of six ratings:

* K – programming appropriate for kids of all ages.

* K-7 – programming inappropriate for kids under 7.

* TV-G – programming appropriate for all audiences.

* TV-PG – programming that should be watched with parental guidance.

* TV-14 – programming that is inappropriate for children younger than 14.

* TV-M – programming for mature audiences only.

Sources close to the ratings system negotiations insisted yesterday that they would not cede any ground to the kidvid advocates. “I think if Valenti caved in any way, he would have a revolt on his hands,” one source said.

But opponents of the proposed system, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who first proposed the V-chip five years ago, said they will push on. “Our only leverage is that we are dealing with an industry that cares how the public views it,” an aide to Markey said, adding: “The idea here is to get to a new level of stability. I don’t think they want this revisited every year.”

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