TV Ratings Rate Poorly with V-Chip Inventor and Father of Three

Article excerpt

As children's advocates and network television executives converge today on Capitol Hill to air their views on the effectiveness of the two-month-old television ratings system, a key voice will be absent.

Tim Collings, the inventor of the V-chip, isn't attending today's Senate Commerce Committee hearings. But lately Mr. Collings, a professor of engineering at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, has lent his voice to the chorus of criticism being leveled against the age-based rating system.

"It's ludicrous," says Collings, who is disappointed the new ratings - modeled after the movie-ratings system and designed to be used with the V-chip - label programs without describing objection- able content. In the US, the "V" in V-chip is known as short for "violence," although Collings points out that it actually stands for "viewer control." He says that the age-based ratings now being tested on a trial basis don't offer viewers the kind of control he envisioned. The issue is truth in packaging, he says, offering this analogy: "It doesn't make sense to print on the side of a food package, 'You may want to reconsider eating this food product because it may contain things that are harmful.' " Likewise, he says, "Suppose you were watching the news and the weatherman came on and said, 'Warning! There's severe weather approaching.' Then ended the report." Besides, he says, "If a broadcaster decides the difference between mild violence or intense violence to rate a program, why can't they make that information available to parents?" The reason broadcasters haven't, he says, is "they think advertisers will jump ship." If it were up to him, Collings would offer US and Canadian viewers four categories to rate content: age, violence, language, and sexuality. The system has already been tested in Canada, where viewers in some surveys found it easy to use, he says. At the same time, "A majority agreed that a movie ratings-type system is inadequate and often misleading. …