Who Will Rate the Ratings?
James T. Hamilton
In January 1997, the presidents of the National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable Television Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America jointly presented the Federal Communications Commission with a description of the television industry's initial version of a rating system, the TV Parental Guidelines. After the industry submitted its initial plan, the Federal Communications Commission issued a notice seeking comment on the industry's proposal, specifying:
In particular, we seek comment on whether the industry proposal is "acceptable." Parties should specifically identify the factors they believe the Commission should consider in making this determination. We also seek comment on whether the industry proposal satisfies Congress' concerns.1
In July 1997, the industry committee amended the TV Parental Guidelines to include indicators for violence (V), sexual situations (S), adult language (L), and suggestive dialogue (D).
In directing the FCC to determine whether the industry program rating system is "acceptable" without further defining this term, Congress potentially delegated significant decisions to the agency. Congress frequently transfers decision-making authority to agencies, in part to take advantage of their expertise and in part from a desire to pass symbolic legislation that earns credits with constituents.2 Congress members may have had yet another reason for using a vague term such as "acceptable" in the Telecommunications