OU Professor Questions Effectiveness of V-Chips

Article excerpt

You've seen those little ratings that appear in the corner of your TV screen. You know about the V-Chip. You've heard the "parental discretion is advised" warnings. But do these safeguards really filter out the blood and gore for young viewers?

Kevin Saunders, professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law said "no" to the query in his presentation Thursday to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Saunders, an expert in violence in the media, questions the effectiveness of the current attempts to regulate violent images on television. "The problem with the V-Chip is that it's just not good enough," Saunders said. V-Chips are the devices that will be installed starting next year in all televisions. They will allow parents to screen out certain programs based on a rating system devised by television industry, not by Congress. But Saunders argues it will be several years before there are sufficient V-Chips in televisions to make any kind of real impact and that parents will not be sufficiently vigilant in activating the chips. Saunders, who has authored Violence as Obscenity: Limiting the Media's First Amendment Protection, said that the television industry needs some added incentives now -- in addition to the ratings in the upper left hand corner of the screen -- to keep scary images out of children's view. "Right now, it's a purely voluntary system." Saunders' presentation to the committee advocated that Congress presently has the power to enact more stringent program restrictions if it so chooses. "My position was basically that Congress has the authority to do more," he said. At the very least, said Saunders, programmers can practice channeling to minimize children' exposure to violent images. Channeling is a concept that arose from the landmark decision FCC v. Pacifica Foundation in 1978. That case involved comedian George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine that was broadcast on New York radio on a weekday afternoon. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately determined that the FCC could channel the broadcast of indecent language into hours when the kiddos would be fast asleep. Saunders argues that while the Pacifica case dealt with language, the high court's definition of "indecent" -- as material not in conformance with accepted standards of morality -- can apply to violence as well. Thursday's presentation came as a result of much concern, among the industry and lawmakers, that rating guidelines that would go with the V-Chip are arbitrary, Saunders explained. "There's a lot of dissatisfaction with the V-Chip -- with not enough information in the ratings that go with it," he said. People Dara Derryberry Prentice has joined Crowe & Dunlevy's Oklahoma City office as an associate. Prentice is a 1995 graduate of Oklahoma City School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Oklahoma City Law Review. As a recipient of the 1994-95 Outstanding Academic Achievement Award and the 1994 Oklahoma Bar Association Award for Outstanding Graduate, Prentice also received American Jurisprudence awards in 13 categories while in law school. …