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TV shows to be rated by age, not sex and violence


Critics say plan too vague to help

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December 10, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Television industry executives are likely next week to adopt a system that uses six broad categories to rate entertainment programs by age suitability.

The proposed categories, unveiled Tuesday, range from "TV-G" for programs suitable for all audiences to "TV-M" for those intended only for mature viewers.

TV industry executives, meeting privately since March, rejected a system backed by children's advocates and educators to rate shows based on the amount of sex, violence and offensive language they contain.

Critics of the age-based system contend it will be too vague to offer parents much guidance about the actual content of TV programs.

The six-level ratings guide was modeled after the movie ratings system. But -- from Hollywood to Capitol Hill -- it is already drawing fire.


"Hollywood wants to play Big Brother and make all the decisions, and not give the information to the parents," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts. While parents want to make their own decisions regarding what their children should watch, "Hollywood won't give them the information they need," he said.

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The Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors also opposes the newly-announced ratings categories, favoring instead ratings like those used in parts of Canada.

The Canadian ratings specify whether there is violence (identified with a V), language (L) or sex (S) in a show, and follow the letters with occasional, frequent or widespread.

"We don't tell producers they can't write or create shows which have a lot of sex, violence and language, so long as it's labeled, so long as the viewers know what's the content," said David Levy, executive director of the caucus.

But Jack Valenti -- president of the Motion Picture Association of America and one of the chief architects of the plan -- stood up for it.


He also urged critics to hold their fire until discussions are concluded next week.

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The ratings system is scheduled to go into effect in January.

It will be up to individual networks or syndicators to rate their shows. Once completed, the ratings will be used in conjunction with a "V-chip," still in development, that will be installed in new TV sets to allow parents to block shows they consider too violent or racy.

TV program ratings for children:

  • "TV-K" -- suitable for all children
  • "TV-K7" -- for children over 7

Programs for a general audience:

  • "TV-G" -- for general audiences.
      A program would receive this rating if most parents "would find this program suitable for all ages ... it contains little or no violence, little or no strong language and little or no sexual content."

  • "TV-PG" -- parental guidance suggested.
      This program "may contain some material that some parents would find unsuitable for younger children.... infrequent coarse language, limited violence, some suggestive sexual dialogue and situations."

  • "TV-14" -- Parents strongly cautioned.
      Programs in this category "may contain some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age," such as "sophisticated themes, strong language, more intense violence and sexual content."

  • "TV-M" -- Mature audiences only.
      The guidelines say this kind of program is "unsuitable" and "too explicit" for children under 17 because of "mature themes, profane language, graphic violence and explicit sexual content."

Correspondent Paul Vercammen andReuters contributed to this report.


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