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

By Monroe E. Price | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Media Filters and the V-Chip

J. M. Balkin


I. INTRODUCTION -- TO V OR NOT TO V

One of the most controversial features of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 1 is its intervention in long-standing disputes about violence and indecency in the media. Due in part to the urging of President Clinton and his Democratic allies, the new act requires that all television sets over thirteen inches include a "V-chip," a device that would allow parents to block violent and indecent television programming. 2

Despite its name, the V-chip is not a single chip at all, but a combination of different technologies. All television programs currently have the capacity to carry extra information -- like closed captioning -- as well as sound and pictures. An electronic circuit in a television or cable box can be designed to block programs by reading a numerical code broadcast along the same band used for closed captioning. Viewers then use a remote control device to select from a menu of choices as to how much violence, bad language, sex, and nudity they wish to tolerate. An experimental rating system developed in Canada, for example, features a five-number scale, with three separate categories for sex, profanity, and violence. Higher numbers signify higher levels of each category. When the V-chip circuitry reads a rating equal to or higher than the consumer's preselected standards, the picture is replaced by a large black box. A V-chip system can also be designed to recall previous settings and block all unrated programs. However, in order to prevent bad language from being transmitted, it must be able to block sound as well as pictures. 3

In response to the passage of the Telecommunications Act, members of the American entertainment industry met with President Clinton on February 29, 1996, and promised the delivery of an industry-sponsored ratings system for the V-chip within a

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