Not satisfied with a Senate plan that would let people block violent shows on television, Democrats and parent groups want Congress to limit the times when those shows may be broadcast.
“While the V-chip (a blocking technology) and ratings are a step in the right direction, there are many children and youths whose parents may not monitor television for them,” Shirley Igo, a vice president for the National Parent-Teacher Association, told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. She said a limited ban on violent shows should be adopted.
William Abbott, president of the non-profit National Foundation to Improve Television, a supporter of blocking technology, also called for a limited ban. “It will take years before new TV sets with the mandated (blocking chip) will be in wide use in American homes,” he said.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, has a plan that would require broadcast and cable TV providers to air violent programs at times when children are not likely to make up the majority of the audience.Hollings’ plan and others raise thorny issues for lawmakers as they try to balance protecting children with the TV industry’s right to free speech.
But Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler, R-S.D., who opposes government intervention, said, “I don’t want America’s children exposed to needless violence and filth, but I part company with those who prescribe government censorship.”
Under Hollings’ plan, the Federal Communications Commission would determine what hours violent programs would be banned. It is unclear what programs would qualify as “violent.”
For cable TV, Hollings’ plan applies only to violent programs carried on the most basic tier of service. That tier generally includes local broadcast channels, public access channels and a few cable networks.
The plan exempts programs carried on “expanded basic” levels of service, which comprise the vast majority of cable channels such as the USA network, TNT and MTV. Pay-per-view programs and pay cable channels such as HBO also are exempted.
A telecommunications bill passed by the Senate last month contains the socalled V-chip provision, which would require broadcasters and cable networks to rate their shows for violence and other potentially objectionable content. It also would require TV set manufacturers to put a computer chip in sets that would read those electronic ratings. This would enable people to block out individual shows, channels or specific time slots.
But makers of TV equipment urged lawmakers to take this provision out of the bill, saying it’s not needed and essentially would create a governmentsanctioned standard for blocking technology which would stifle innovation.
A variety of blocking devices already are available to the public, with more on the way, representatives said. Unlike the V-chip approach, these alternative blocking technologies don’t rely on a ratings system. People may block based on channels and time slots.
All the leading makers of color TV sets, including Sony, RCA, Magnavox and Zenith, have blocking features that are built in, said Zenith Vice President Wayne Luplow.