The V-Chip Debate: Content Filtering from Television to the Internet

By Monroe E. Price | Go to book overview
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strips to motion pictures and encompassing voluntary and mandatory solutions. The book cannot cover all of this history, but Richard Mosk, who heads the administration of the rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America provides a description of that process for purposes of comparison. An essay by Professor Jack Balkin deals with ways in which the existence of filtering technology has led to a reconceptualization of free speech issues. The book includes two additional reports: a five-country study by Joel Federman specially updated for this book, and The UCLA Television Violence Report (1996), by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy.

Many of the significant issues in the debate are not front and center in this book because they are the subject of so much discussion elsewhere. One such question is the constitutionality, under the U.S. Constitution, of the congressional action that led to the V-chip. What has been interesting is how popular it has been to contend that the statue was of questionable constitutionality at the same time that most of the industry conformed to it. All networks agreed to ratings, even though NBC earned the badge of outsider or champion of broadcaster freedom for not agreeing to the last jot and title of the final arrangements. This is a book more about law than it is about accepted ideas of psychology. Therefore, the thicket of actual harms -- whether violence or sexually explicit programming actually causes harms to young people -- is left for the thriving debate of others.

The V-chip, as it turns out, may not have a great impact on the quality of society in the ways that are intended. The broadcasters who are preparing for its implementation have indicated that they do not believe, based on early returns, that rating and labeling systems are effective in "empowering" parents or saving the souls of their children. Still, the V-chip is a phenomenon. It is cause for rethinking the regulation of speech, for revisiting issues of imagery and society and for reinventing a relationship between parent and child. Not bad for a simple chip and a mass of labels.


Notes
1.
The general rulemaking of the Federal Communications Commission is to be found at "In the Matter of Technical Requirements to Enable Blocking of Video Programming based on Program Ratings; Implementation of Sections 551(c), (d) and (e) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996," 12 FCC Rcd 15573 ( September 26, 1997). Paragraph 22 discusses the possibility of extension of ratings to "any receiver meeting the screen size requirements . . . [including] any computer that is sold with TV receiver capability and a monitor that has a viewable picture size of 13 inches or larger." On March 12, 1998, the FCC found acceptable the industry video programming rating system.
2.
See Mark Steyn, TV Cynics zap Clinton's Cure-all The V-Chip, the In-home Censor, Is Coming Soon to Small Screens in the U.S., SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, Mar. 3, 1996, at 24. Meeting the New Chip on the Block.. And Imagine the Joy of Watching Television without the Dross, THE GUARDIAN, Mar. 19, 1996, at 16; Reference to President Clinton and B-chip; Frank Rich, The V-Chip G-String, N. Y. TIMES, Feb. 28, 1996, at A17; Roger Simon, Skip Chips to Stop Violence; The Problem's Not In the Set, THE SUN (BALTIMORE), July 16, 1995, at 2A; Hearings on "Music Violence: How Does It Affect Our Youth? An Examination of the Impact of Violent Music Lyrics on Youth Behavior and Well-Being in the District of Columbia and Across the Nation" Before the Subcomm. on Oversight of Gov't Management, Restructuring, and the Dist. of Columbia, 105th Cong. ( 1997) (statement of Hilary Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Recording Indus. Assoc. of Am.).
3.
See C. Dianne Martin, "An Alternative to Government Regulation and Censorship: Content Advisory Systems for Interactive Media" (in this volume).
4.
An example of the reaction to the initial rating system is the response of Mark Honig, of the Parents Television Council in Los Angeles. According to Honig, at the time,

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