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

By Monroe E. Price | Go to book overview

Finally, figure 2 shows an advisory label assigned to one of the more violent games available in the U.S. a year or so ago (even more violent games have since reached market), a game called "Doom." As you can see, the game received the next to highest advisory for violence -- in this case because it portrayed blood and gore -- and a very mild rating for language (mild expletives). There were no instances of either sex or nudity in the game.


CONTENT LABELING AND TELEVISION

Now, how might something such as the RSAC content labeling system relate to a TV content labeling system to implement the V-chip? Clearly, some modifications would have to be made in the dimensions employed and in some of the questions required to assign a label. (The contextual features identified in the NCTV study would be a good place to begin developing the appropriate dimensions for television content). But for the most part, such an informational approach seems ideal for the new V-chip technology. It would be inexpensive and quick, because the producers/writers of each television show would rate their own product with the understanding that the rating procedure is public. More important, it would serve the consumer well because it has the advantage of being descriptive and informational rather than judgmental.

Joel Federman ( 1996) concluded his recent book on media ratings with the recommendation that whatever rating system is adopted, it should make every effort to maximize information and minimize judgment. Of course, "informational" and "judgmental" are relative terms. Since even the act of choosing to label content implies evaluation, no rating system can be purely informational. Nevertheless, because something like the RSAC content labeling system leans far more in the direction of description than evaluation, it has several valuable advantages over evaluative systems. First, and most important, it puts the decision-making power in the hands of the parents rather than some outside agency with which the parent may or may not agree. It presumes that children are different from each other and that parents know the needs and capabilities of their own children far better than anyone else can. Second, it has the advantage of consistency because the criteria for labeling any content are objective, concrete, and public. And this, in turn, means that it can be used in highly flexible ways. Parents whose primary concern might be media violence and parents whose primary concern might be language or sexuality can all use the system with confidence, adapting it to fit each of their different needs.

There is probably no such thing as a perfect solution to the problem of protecting a highly vulnerable audience such as children while simultaneously protecting people's right to say/write/film/program freely. Nevertheless, providing parents with descriptive information on which they can base informed decisions would be a big step in the right direction -- a step that attempts to respond to the needs and right of all concerned parties.


Notes
*
Earlier versions of this paper were delivered as The Wally Langenschmidt Memorial Lecture at the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa, August 28, 1996, and as an invited address to the Korean Broadcasting Commission, Seoul, Korea, June 3, 1997.

-175-

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