The V Chip Essay, Research Paper
THE V (Violence)-CHIP
By Mary Ann Banta Board Member, National Coalition on Television Violence
Almost from its inception, television has attracted critics concerned with violence portrayed in prime-time and Saturday morning children’s programs. Spokesmen for the broadcast industry took the position that television and the violence portrayed on television had no affect on behavior of the viewer. To many this was a strange position for an industry that was also selling commercial time with the specific intent to influence the viewer’s purchasing behavior
Both broadcasters and media activists have collected research data on the number of violent acts portrayed during entertainment programming and the effects of viewing television violence. More important, the industry conducted research and subscribed to rating systems to ascertain what people were watching. Numbers were most important because network and station revenues were not impacted by the effects of television, but by the numbers of people of a specific age range (market segment) who were watching television.
As time went on, it became clear to media researchers that no single study that points to television violence as a “cause” of aggressive or violent behavior, but that television is certainly a “contributing factor” to an individual’s aggressive behavior and to the problem of violence in society. The research also pointed to two other effects:
?Developing insensibility to violence
?Developing an excessive fear of violence.
Dr. George Gerbner described the latter as a “mean world syndrome” where the viewer perceives the world as more violent than it actually is.
The summer of 1993 marked an important milestone for the issue of television violence. Due to the work of Senator Paul Simon (D-IL), the industry met and discussed the issue media violence with media activists. For the first time the industry leaders acknowledged that there may be some reason for concern. The broadcast industry and the cable industry both agreed to monitor their offerings for levels of violence. While organizations such as National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) had been monitoring for years, the industries had tended to disregard these efforts as tainted. They assumed that groups concerned about television violence could not or would not conduct unbiased, reliable research. UCLA was chosen to monitor broadcast television, while Mediascope was contracted to do the same for cable television. When their reports were issued, both found levels of televisions violence that corresponded to what had been reported by NCTV. Both reports also agreed that the level of violence was too high and much of what was broadcast was inappropriate for young children.
Also, during the summer of 1993, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) began to organize a task force dealing with the issue of television violence. Ultimately this group included both media activist groups and large national organizations like the American Medical Association and the National PTA. Initially the Senator’s intention was not for legislative action but to merely put the broadcast and cable industry on notice that this was a serious problem and required action on their part. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) had been actively working for the passage of V-Chip legislation in the house. Senator Conrad introduced the Children’s Media Protection Act of 1995 in the Senate. As a result of their collaborative efforts a section of this proposed legislation, popularly known as the V-Chip legislation, became part of the Telecommunications Act.
WHAT DOES THE LAW REQUIRE
The law requires manufacturers to install a “V-Chip” in new television sets and requires that, if the networks establish ratings, they must transmit these ratings so they may be recognized by the V-Chip. The networks are urged to devise their own rating system within one year. The FCC is required to review the rating system devised and if the system is not established, or if the FCC rejects it, the FCC is permitted to choose a panel to develop a rating system for the networks.
The law does not require the networks to APPLY the system, just to establish a system this may be a moot question. If the cable industry uses a rating system, or if any one of the four broadcast networks use it public pressure would force the other networks to go a long with the rating system.
WHAT IS THE V-CHIP?
The legislation requires insertion of microchip circuitry in new TV sets allowing parents to screen out shows that have been rated for
No V-chip, per se, because nobody has had to make one, according to William Posner, president of EEG Enterprises Inc. as quoted by Roger Fillion (Reuters).
The final product may not be a chip, but a modification of existing technology in TV sets, i.e., the closed-captioning system. According to industry spokesmen, modification to the existing closed-caption to include the V-chip rating would not be difficult. A rating code would be carried within an unused portion of the television signal, the black bar that appears when the horizontal hole on a television set goes out of whack and the picture rolls. It would be an improvement over existing technology that allows parents to block an entire channel, since the V-chip could automatically block selected programs. The Electronic Industries Association has been working on a V-Chip technical standard for more than 3 years.
COMMENTS ON THE V-CHIP
President Bill Clinton looks on the V-Chip as giving the remote control back to the parent. The administration supported the V-Chip and has aided in the formation of a means to create a rating system.
Senator Paul Simon, a long time critic of the industry, surprised and disappointed many when he opposed the concept of the V-Chip and the legislation, which incorporates it into new television set. In an article written for Business Wire and also in a speech on the floor of the Senate he argues that:
?The V-chip is no substitute for the industry disciplining itself
?In areas of high crime where children watch 50% more TV, the V-chip would not be used
?Teenagers will find a way around the V-chip.
?They will see the programs at the homes of other children
?It will take years for the V-chip to be in all TV sets TV needs to be cleaned up now.
?Will the V-chip distinguish between gratuitous, glamorized violence and other types?
?Will broadcasters shy away form any programming deemed to be violent.
?It will be a pro for cable and a negative for broadcast television. Yet it is broadcast television that has made the most progress in lessening violence.
?For 10- to 14- year-old males a negative rating will have drawing effect.
?In short the V-chip is a gimmick
Donald Wildmon president of the American Family Association said the V-chip “sounds like a good step on the surface, but in the long run would absolve the entertainment industry of their responsibility.”
Ted Turner, chief executive of Turner Broadcasting noted movies have become more violent, despite a rating system. He predicted that advertisers’ concern would change the face of television: “I think it is going to result in more Brady Bunch-type programming.”
In mid-January America On Line asked members whether they supported the concept of a V-Chip.
Have the 24,890 responses received, over 55% said they supported the concept of a V-Chip, almost 40% were against, and about 5% did not care
13,767 YES (55.31%)
9,866 NO (39.64%)
1,257 Don’t CARE (5.05%)
24,890 Total Responses
AOL stresses that this is not a scientific survey. Many expressed concern over the government’s intervention by requiring the industry to install the V-Chip, suggesting that it be optional. Others were concerned about the cost.
The cable industry is receptive to an industry-devised rating system, perhaps because shows with coarse language, excessive violence, and sexually suggestive scenes are more common on cable than on broadcast television There are so many cable networks that the industry as a whole is less averse to labeling broadcast networks that rely on a “broader” audience than cable. The broadcasters rely on advertising for revenue, whereas cable revenue comes from subscriber fees and advertising.
Brian Lowry of Variety quoted NBC West Coast president, Don Ohlmeyer, often. He says that the networks air relatively little violent programming. He also pointed out that a network loses anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million every time it airs a movie with a viewer discretion advisory. He was also quoted “It is not the role of network television to program for the children of America…. Television?s obligation is not (to be) the nation’s baby-sitter.”
Barry Diller who was quoted by Frank Rich of the New York Times does not support this view that television has no public service responsibility. Diller thinks the V-Chip is a “genuinely dumbbell idea.” But Diller believes that broadcasters will make a real, long-term commitment to public interest TV only if forced to do so as part of a trade-off for the “spectrum”-the additional airwaves that broadcasters want for digital television-and want for free. “If broadcasters are going to get new channels and have reinvigorated public responsibility, they should get them free.” If not “they should pay whatever the government can gouge out of them.”
Prior to the meeting between the Clinton administration and industry leaders, a source was quoted by Dennis Sharton of Variety as saying “You can’t win the public relations battle on this…when it’s obvious there is bipartisan congressional support for doing something on an issue, when you have an FCC chairman talking about this, and when public opinion is not in your favor, it’s just not smart to thumb your nose and run to court.”
In 1993, Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Pictures Association of America, was an outspoken critic of the V-Chip. In the press conference that followed the industries’ meeting with the President, he announced that the industry plans to have a rating system in place by January 1997. He stressed that rating was going to be a “humongous” even Herculean task for the industry. Even after stressing what difficulty the industry would have, he did not let go of the idea that it is the parent who should be the guardian of what a child watches. “There has to be some kind of renaissance of individual responsibility that’s accepted by parents, by the church, and by the school so that you build inside a youngster what we call a moral shield-it’s fortified by the commandments of God-so that that child understands clearly what is right and what is clearly wrong.”
It has been suggested that the real reason for the industry lack of court challenge to the v-chip may be political. The decision that may have more to do with the threat of auctioning the broadcast spectrum. If it appears that the industry is intransigent on the issue of program ratings, it may be easier to require the networks to pay full freight on the spectrum. The FCC, which has raised about $19 billion through nine auctions for other parts of the airwaves since mid-1994, estimates a digital TV sale could raise anywhere from $11 billion to $70 billion. At present, stations do not pay for their lucrative use of the publicly owned airwaves.
?There will certainly be problems related to the implementation of the rating system and the use of the V-chip.
?Will the rating be carried just at the beginning of the program or will the rating be carried throughout the program so if a program is turned on in progress the chip will read the rating and the program will be blocked?
?Would each episode of a show be rated or would shows be given just one rating, regardless of content from week-to-week?
?If “R” ratings are limited to a post-9PM, would that mean that reruns of those shows could not air in the lucrative 7 PM8 PM time known as prime access, when the studios make their money back on programming?
?Some worry that a more detailed rating system could be used by pressure groups to target certain television programs. Advertisers could be forced not to advertise certain rating categories.
?It will be a huge job to rate 300,000 hours a year, plus the programs that are available for re-runs.
NCTV’s POSITION ON THE V-CHIP
The new study media violence done under the auspices of network television shows that the concern about media violence is well founded. These findings reflect earlier a finding by NCTV The V-Chip is needed. Mediascope’s National Television Violence Study found that 57% of television programs aired in 1994 and 1995 contained some violence. Further, the aggressors went unpunished in 73% of all violent scenes, while the negative consequences of violence were not shown, e.g. 58% of violent acts did not show the victim feeling any pain, anti-violent messages were few, showing up in only 4% of programs about violence. One in four violent scenes involve a handgun. 39% of violent scenes were portrayed as humorous.
Senator Simon’s dismissal of the V-Chip was discouraging. He has been a friend too long. While we agree that the V-Chip is not the answer, it has an important role to play. His dismissal of parents in high crime areas is unfair to economically poor parents. To be economically poor does not, in fact, make you an unconcerned parent. The truth is the use of blocking by low-income parents will not disturb advertisers nearly as much as its use by affluent parents.
Of course teens can “get around” the blocking technology. The very young child, the audience for whom the chip is really intended, will be protected.
It is alarming that the Senator thinks that the entertainment industry will do more than study themselves as the result of his actions. There will be a V-Chip in every television set before then industry disciplines itself.
Yes, the V-Chip will be able to rate for “acceptable” violence, such as a documentary portrayal of the Civil War. The question will be: Can the entertainment industry be convinced that cartoons need to be rated for violence? Again, it cannot not be over-stressed; the V-Chip is intended to help parents of YOUNG children.
Should the Senator be more concerned about the incomes of the broadcasters vs. the cable industry at the expense of our children? He fails to mention that the broadcasters have failed to live up to and, in some cases, even acknowledge their licensed responsibility to children.
Newton Menow, former Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman and author of the phrase “vast wasteland” calls for stronger measures to protect children. Television operators should be required to air a specific amount of educational programming. He also favors banning commercials in programs aimed at young children. The Clinton administration favors airing three hours a week of educational programming for children, but Reed Hundt, current Chairman of the FCC, has been unable to convince a majority of the five commissioners to agree to this minimal standard.
The V-Chip is neither a solution nor a “dumbbell idea.” It is a tool that a parent can use to help monitor a child’s television viewing. Parents will still have the responsibility. Parents will need to become more aware of what types of programs are suitable for particular ages of children. Until now, television programs were aimed at a general audience. The problem is a program, suitable for a “general audience” is often not suitable for a five year old.
The real effect of the V-Chip will not be known for a long time, because the real effect of the V-Chip may or may not be economical. There is much speculation about how a profit making industry will respond to ratings and a parent?s ability to block programs. Much will depend on how the industry chooses to rate programs. The reality is that it is impossible to predict how this action will turn out.
WHAT THE PUBLIC CAN DO
INFLUENCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE RATING SYSTEM
The public needs to be informed as to how the rating system is being devised Public input is needed so that the rating actually meets the needs of parents individuals and groups can contact their local stations requesting that their needs be met.
There is a need for information about the effects of television violence on people. The broadcast industry has long taken the position that television violence has no effect.
JOIN MEDIA ACTION GROUPS
The electronic environment is important. People grouping together to work for media reform can help improve the media environment.