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U.S. TV industry unveils ratings system

TV Ratings graphic

December 19, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. television industry unveiled a voluntary TV ratings system on Thursday aimed at allowing viewers to decide which programs are suitable for children. All programs, except news and sports, will be included.

The system is to begin early next year and will be similar to the ratings that have been used on movies for nearly 30 years. It is the first time the industry has ever adopted a rating system.

In announcing the plan, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America and head of the TV industry's ratings effort said, "Never before has this disparate (industry) ever come together in near unanimity to present to the American public something they are doing voluntarily."

"There is no law that commands us to do what we are unveiling today," he said.

Jack Valenti states the goal of the TV ratings system
icon (536K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Valenti said producers, broadcast networks, cable channels, syndicates and others that originate programs will rate their own shows for sexual and violent content.

Various TV shows

He also praised Decker Anstrom, president of the National Cable Television Association, and Edward Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, for their work in developing the system. Anstrom and Fritts were on hand for the announcement.

President Clinton applauded the ratings plan but stopped short of an outright endorsement.

"This is a huge step forward over what we have now, which is nothing," Clinton said. "We might be able to make it better. The parents groups, the advocacy groups deserve to be heard and considered. But we are now doing what I think ought to be done."

But critics of the plan want shows to be independently rated.

In an afternoon news conference, advocacy groups -- including the Center for Media Education, the National Parent Teacher Association, the Children's Defense Fund and the American Psychological Association -- denounced the ratings system, saying it needs to be more specific about the amount and type of sex, violence and strong language used in a show.

"Not only do (parents) want to make a judgment, but they really don't trust the same people who are producing the shows to make choices for them, their families and their children," Arnold Feig of the National Parent Teacher Association told reporters. icon (512K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Feig added that the industry should test an independent ratings system developed by the nation's parents, "not Jack Valenti."

Valenti lashed out at groups that have criticized the ratings system.

"The only group in America that deserves to scrutinize what we are doing ... are parents," Valenti said. icon (392K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Valenti said the system gives parents adequate information to make judgments about what their children will watch, while being simple enough for newspapers to publish the ratings before the programs are shown.

Ratings can be appealed to a 19-member board of TV industry representatives. Also, the industry's ratings system is subject to Federal Communications Commission approval. If the FCC finds the system unsuitable, it can move to appoint an independent advisory board to rate programs. However, the government cannot require its use.

Shows will be rated using the following categories:

  • TV-Y, material suitable for children of all ages. Show contains little or no violence, strong language or sexual content.

  • TV-Y7, material suitable for children 7 and older.

  • TV-G, material suitable for all audiences.

  • TV-PG, parental guidance is suggested. Program may contain infrequent coarse language, limited violence, some suggestive sexual dialogue and situations.

  • TV-14, material may be inappropriate for children under 14. Program may contain sophisticated themes, strong language and sexual content.

  • TV-M, for mature audiences only. Program may contain profane language, graphic violence and explicit sexual content.

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