TV content code deal in sight

WASHINGTON — Now that key lawmakers are making public pledges to observe a legislative cease-fire, the television industry may have a new TV content code as early as Thursday morning, industry sources said Tuesday.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) removed a key stumbling block to a deal Tuesday when he agreed to refrain from any further legislative efforts to limit television content for three years. Joining Markey in the cease-fire agreement were other members of the House who helped push V-chip legislation through Congress in 1996.

“We are now stating clearly that if the industry is willing to implement a content-based ratings system approved by the parents groups, we will let both sides make it work by discouraging additional legislative attacks for at least three years,” Markey said Tuesday. Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is working on a similar letter in the Senate.

Broadcasters and cablers say they expect to nail down a final agreement after a final conference call scheduled for Thursday morning.

In a sign of the television industry’s distaste at being forced to rewrite a ratings code only months after it was first implemented, sources said there will be no joint press conferences with members of Congress or with White House officials.

Broadcasters are still working on a deal with parents advocacy groups such as the National PTA, the American Psychiatric Assn. and the Children’s Defense Fund. Markey, who has encouraged the groups to criticize the TV code, said he does not expect them to agree to such a long-term moratorium. Lobbyists said Tuesday that getting key members of Congress on board matters more because they have the power to pass laws.

The new content code will add V, S and L symbols to the current age-based rating system. The symbols are designed to tell parents if a show includes violence, sexual themes or adult language. In addition, the agreement may call for a D for risque dialogue and FV for cartoons containing fantasy violence.

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