TV content labeling assailed

Report claims too few shows rated

WASHINGTON — Nearly one year after most networks began using the current version of the television content code, many shows are not being properly tagged with warnings about violence, sex and sexual innuendo, a report charged Thursday.

The report concluded that 79% of shows with violence and 92% of shows with sex were not appropriately labeled. In addition, the report found that 81% of kids shows that should be labeled “FV” (fantasy violence) were not.

As an example, the study pointed out that an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” was not labeled with a “V” for violence even though it included two stabbings, an assault on a church by escaped convicts and a threat by the convicts to rape a nun. In the same episode, according to the study, one of the convicts is shot and another is beaten unconscious.

Broadcasters were quick to point out that the study is flawed because it includes programs on NBC, which has refused to label its shows for content (it does label for age appropriateness, however).

Kaiser study revelations

Overall, the Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 20% of programs that should be rated with a label for sex, violence or adult language did not get tagged.

“Parents cannot rely on the content descriptors, as currently employed, to identify most shows containing sex, violence or adult language,” said Vicky Rideout, who heads the foundation’s entertainment media and public health program.

Broadcasters complained that the study’s calculations included NBC programs, which have declined to label their shows with content descriptions such as the “S” for sex or “L” for language. On Oct. 1 of last year, other broadcast and cable webs began combining the age-based ratings such as “TV-14” with the content descriptors for sex, violence and risque language.

“This is still half a system,” said National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, who pointed out that TV sets equipped with the V-chip won’t be available until next summer. The V-chipped sets will be able to block programs based on their content rating. Wharton also noted that the system is still young and that some “tweaking and improvements” are in order.

Ten studied

The study, which was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, looked at 10 broadcast and cable networks. Among the networks studied were ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, TNT, USA and HBO. The study also included KTLA as representative of a station unaffiliated with a major network.

Researchers compiled their data after watching 1,159 shows in 1997 and another 1,147 shows this year. The report goes into great detail about depictions of sex and violence. According to the study, among those shows that were not tagged with an “S” for sexual content, “there was an average of 2.1 scenes depicting sexually related activity, including many instances of intercourse strongly implied and even a few with intercourse depicted.”

Among the study’s other findings is that Fox led the way when it comes to programming that is inappropriate for kids aged 13 and under. According to the study, 46% of Fox primetime programming in 1998 was labeled TV-14. Coming in second was NBC with 24% of its primetime labeled TV-14.

Because news is exempt from the ratings system, the study did not examine sexual content on news programming.

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