The V-Chip, ratings and sex & violence on cable. A status report

Term Paper, 1999

10 Pages, Grade: 1- (A-)


Table Of Contents


The Telecommunications Act of 1996

The TV Ratings system

The V-Chip

The role of cable



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In last Thursday’s edition of USA Today concerned parents had no doubt about what was responsible for the High School shootings in Colorado. 49% agreed that TV, movies and music “have a great deal of blame” for the shootings (topped only by ‘availability of guns’ and ‘parents’) and 52% spoke out for “more restrictions on TV and movie violence” (USA Today 1999, p. 3A). Violence on television has been an issue for a very long time. This has different reasons: First, children (who seem to be the center of the debate most of the times) are a society’s most precious good. Threatening the well-being of their children is probably the worst thing you can do to people. That’s why at all times adults were afraid their children could get harmed by whatever media they were exposed to – be it comic books, early movie theaters, rock music or television.

I don’t want to go into great detail and talk much about research on media effects, but I think it is simplistic and dangerous to assume a direct causality between violence portrayed on television and violent behavior in real life. But tragic incidents like the shooting in Colorado last week will give a boil-up to the discussion of stronger control over violent TV programming and effective measures that can be taken to prevent children from consuming this violence.

This paper deals with the technology of the so-called V-Chip and the fairly new television ratings system that were made mandatory by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The advantages and disadvantages of these appliances will be discussed as well as cable’s special role in this significant issue.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed by President Bill Clinton on February 8, 1996 and changed many aspects of the telecommunications landscape drastically. Especially Section 551 of the Act, titled ‘Parental choice in television programming’, was (and still is) very controversial. It encouraged the television industry to “establish voluntary rules for rating video programming that contains sexual, violent or other indecent material about which parents should be informed before it is displayed to children,” and to voluntarily broadcast signals containing these ratings (

The Act further required the FCC to “consult with appropriate public interest groups and

interested individuals from the private sector” about the industry's voluntary plan, and then to determine if “such rules are acceptable to the Commission”. On March 12, 1998, the Commission found that the Industry Video Programming Rating System was acceptable and adopted technical requirements – the infamous “V-Chip” – to enable blocking of video programming (

The TV Ratings system

The new TV rating system, referred to as ‘TV Parental Guidelines’, is loosely based on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings, which have been used for the last 30 years to classify films in movie theaters. The following categories exist:

- TV-Y: All children
- TV-Y7: Directed to older children
- TV-G: General audience
- TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested
- TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned
- TV-MA: Mature audience only

Unfortunately, these ratings didn’t give any information about the actual content of the program. A program could be rated TV-14 for all kinds of reasons and a very violent program would get the exact same rating as a program containing no violence at all (but for example coarse language instead). Research found that the content of a program rated TV-PG would be “totally unpredictable – parents would not know whether it contained what they consider harmful. They thus would not have the advance information needed to decide whether they should shield their child from it or not” (Cantor 1998, p. 57). This of course takes away a lot of the effectiveness of this ratings system because if parents cannot understand or trust it, they are much less likely to make use of it.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The V-Chip, ratings and sex & violence on cable. A status report
Ohio University  (School of Telecommunication)
Cable Communication
1- (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
439 KB
Telecommunications Act of 1996, TV Ratings System, The V-Chip, The Role of Cable
Quote paper
Christoph Koch (Author), 1999, The V-Chip, ratings and sex & violence on cable. A status report, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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