Won't budge on age-based kidvid ratings

WASHINGTON — Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti took on critics of the proposed ratings system, paying particular attention to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who he said was orchestrating an effort to “wound and kill these ratings before they are born.”

Despite the carping from Markey, other members of Congress and public interest groups, Valenti vowed that the industry ratings group would stick to the system it has developed during the last 10 months. “We are not going to use any other system but the one we are going to release next week,” Valenti said. He plans to officially release the aged-based ratings system at a press conference Dec. 19.

Biz integrity under attack

Valenti was responding to a press conference Wednesday in which Markey attacked the integrity of the industry effort because it makes producers responsible for rating their own programs. “If you look up ‘conflict of interest’ in the dictionary, you will find it is defined as “letting TV producers rate their own shows,” Markey said.

Joining him in the attack was fellow culture warrior Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who suggested that Congress could revisit the ratings issue if Valenti does not agree to include some form of content description in the TV code.

Markey, Lieberman and three dozen groups including the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Psychological Assn. sent Valenti a letter Dec. 11 asking him to revise the proposed rating system so that it indicates the level of sex, violence and adult language in programs. “We urge you to respect this simple premise by adding to your ratings system labels that describe content similar to the “V” for violence, “L” for Language, and “S” for sex …” the groups wrote.

“The reason broadcasters and Hollywood don’t want a ‘V’ for violence is because it allows parents to target shows,” said Markey, adding, “They fear advertising revenue losses because it allows parents to tell broadcasters to take off the air violent programming.”

Voluntary system

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandates that manufacturers equip TV sets with V-chips in two years. It also calls on the TV industry to voluntarily create a ratings system that can be decoded by the V-chip. Should the industry fail to produce a ratings system that is acceptable to the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC chairman may convene his own ratings advisory board to develop a system of its own.

In an effort to preempt a challenge of the ratings system on First Amendment concerns, the Telecommunications Act makes it clear the FCC cannot force the industry to accept any ratings system, whether it is developed by industry or the government.

Jan. 1 deadline

V-chipped sets are not expected to reach the market for at least a year, but the broadcast networks say they will begin rating programming by Jan. 1.

With dozens of groups accusing Valenti of turning a deaf ear to their demands for a code that includes content descriptions, the MPAA prexy reminded his fault-finders that Congress left it up to the industry to create its own ratings code. In a direct reply to Markey, Valenti said, “It’s not that the ‘V’ in V-chip stands for violence, the ‘V’, sir, stands for voluntary.”

Valenti did not dispute reports that the proposed code will be a six-category age-based system. Those categories range from K for educational programs and cartoons to TV-M, which will tag shows appropriate for mature audiences only. Valenti did confirm that he will head an oversight board for at least the first year that the ratings will be in effect. The 19-member board will include six broadcasters, six cable industry execs and six members of the creative community.

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