Clinton has plan on ratings

Address urges universal code

WASHINGTON — President Clinton congratulated the entertainment industry on its efforts to give parents more information about sex and violence in popular culture, but also used his State of the Union speech to urge the movie, television, recording and videogame industries to come up with a single cohesive content code.

Last month First Lady Hillary Clinton suggested that the entire industry adopt a universal content code.

Entertainment lobbyists including Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy Hilary Rosen have criticized the idea as unworkable, but the proposal is gaining momentum in Washington. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) have even drafted legislation calling for a universal content rating system.

“One of the biggest complaints about the rating systems, especially the TV ratings system, is that they are confusing,” said Lieberman aide Dan Gerstein.

The television industry, under the leadership of Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti, adopted its own content code two years ago. The code requires TV programmers to label programs in several categories including sex, violence and risque language. The MPAA code for movies, which is more than 30 years old, makes viewing recommendations based on age, but provides no information about the actual content of a particular movie. The music industry has a single label which warns buyers that an album has explicit, adult-oriented lyrics. And the videogame industry has at least two entirely different labeling systems that warn buyers about violence in games.

Creating a single rating system that works across several segments of the entertainment industry could prove extraordinarily difficult. It would be especially hard for the television industry, which has a code that allows parents to program televisions to block certain shows based on their ratings. The code works with a V-chip that is embedded in almost every TV set sold since last summer. Broadcasters and cable systems embed the content code in television signals as a show is transmitted to viewers. The V-chip can read the embedded rating and, if programmed to do so, will block a particular show.

If the content code is rewritten it could render millions of those V-chips obsolete.

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