[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: Now, the new TV rating system gets a hearing. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, spent much of last year on Capitol Hill arguing that any television rating system be kept strictly voluntary. Today with such a voluntary system up and running for all of two months, Valenti was back on Capitol Hill defending it.
JACK VALENTI, Motion Picture Association of America: This system has been in the marketplace for a mere 56 days. So I leave you with one question that I would hope everybody on this panel would privately answer, and I wish Sen. Torricelli and Sen. Brownback were here because the question is this: Should the entire career of a United States Senator be judged solely on his or her performance in their first 56 days in office?
KWAME HOLMAN: The rating system is used by broadcast and cable programmers. Many cable television systems now are airing a series of announcements explaining how the system works.
SPOKESPERSON: That’s why the preview channel and your local cable system have teamed up to bring you the new TV parental guidelines. Look for these informative symbols in the preview scroll and on the top half of your screen. Simple to use, easy to understand television ratings to help you make smart, informed program choices for your family.
JACK VALENTI: It takes time for these things to become compatible in parents’ minds. It takes time for them to absorb what it is you’re trying to do. It can’t be done overnight.
KWAME HOLMAN: Valenti, representing the television industry, appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee today in response to a growing number of complaints from both inside and outside Congress that the new rating system is too vague.
DR. JOANNE CANTOR, University of Wisconsin: The new TV parental guidelines are the opposite of what parents overwhelmingly want; they fail to disclose the critical content information that parents need; and rather than discouraging children’s viewing, they lure children to programs we are trying to shield them from. This is why I say the new ratings not only are not helpful; they are a giant step backward.
REP. EDWARD MARKEY, (D) Massachusetts: Here’s their rating: TVPG. This is the best we can do, they say. Well, what if we even take out one letter and just make it PGV? Very simple, one fewer letter, and then the parents will know that it’s violence that is the problem, or PGS, or PGL.
The problem with the category, of course, is they’ve established a PGTV–is that it really stands for too vague, parents give up. It covers everything from the silly to the sick, from the profound to the profane, all lumped in one big category that’s 70 percent of all programming. There is no real distinction that’s made by these Hollywood rating systems. It’s all the same.
JACK VALENTI: Let’s take, V, S, and L. We looked at that very carefully, but we think it gives inaccurate information to parents, and let me tell you why. Sen. Brownback just said one of the most laudable shows on television today, one that has been greatly appreciated by religious groups as chock full of family values, is “Touched By an Angel” on CBS.
I watch it. I love it. But every now and then there is an episode in there as the angels try to cure the evil on earth that you have maybe a little scene or two that you’d have to put an S on there, some kissing and some hugging.
So you put an S by “Touched By an Angel;” you would also put an S by “Natural Born Killers”; you would put an S by “Basic Instincts”; you would put an S by “Pulp Fiction.” Tell me, in the rush of life, how is the parent to make a distinction when they see one S by “Touched By an Angel” and one S by “Natural Born Killers”?
KWAME HOLMAN: But Missouri’s John Ashcroft says the ratings still should carry more specific information about program content.
SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT, (R) Missouri: I would just that the word “may” always means may not. And when it says that it may contain it, it means that it may not contain it. And when you tell a person that it may or may not contain something, you haven’t told them very much.
You might as well put the rating at the end of the program, instead of at the beginning of the program, so that if you can’t have an identification of content that is more specific than it may or may not contain something, we haven’t really given parents the capacity to get very much done.
KWAME HOLMAN: Valenti acknowledged the industry’s rating system is not perfect and said he’s open to considering changes. Such changes could come after the Federal Communications Commission holds its own hearing on the TV rating system this spring.