Most of the television industry, under pressure from Congress and parents groups, has all but agreed to rate its programs according to potentially offensive levels of sex, violence, foul language and even sexually suggestive dialogue, congressional sources said Wednesday.
Although some details remained to be worked out, the agreement was expected to be unveiled formally today at a White House news conference led by Vice President Al Gore.
“It’s a done deal - the TV industry and the children’s groups have told me that,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview Wednesday night. “It will be announced tomorrow.”
Within the industry, however, there is one major holdout. NBC, the top-rated broadcast network, has decided not to join CBS, ABC, Fox and virtually every other cable-TV network.
NBC executives told their colleagues Wednesday they would not adopt the S, V, L and D symbols denoting sexual content, violence, profane language and suggestive dialogue, according to sources within NBC and the other networks. NBC based its position on its belief that the new ratings system was agreed upon under coercion and represented an infringement on the networks’ right of free speech.
The agreement would represent the climax of several months of intense negotiations between television executives and representatives of the National Parent Teacher Association, the Center for Media Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics and several other organizations representing parents and children.
The parents’ and children’s groups were unsatisfied from the beginning with the age-based ratings system, which was engineered by the Motion Picture Association of America and put into effect on Jan. 1.
The new system, however, will incorporate the old designations. For most shows these were TV-G (for general audiences), TV-PG (parental guidance suggested), TV-13 (not suitable for children under 13) and TV-MA (for mature audiences only). Children’s shows were ranked as TV-Y (for all children) and TV-Y7 (for children over 7).
In addition to NBC, one other network has not been a party to the ratings game from the outset. The Public Broadcasting System has not used the ratings symbols that the rest of the industry initiated on Jan. 1, and it was not a party to the negotiations that apparently have led to the new system.
The negotiations have been extremely delicate for many weeks, all the more so because of partisan political considerations. Both Republican and Democratic leaders, believing that it is good politics to support parents’ and children’s organizations against the television industry, have sought credit for instituting a new and tougher ratings system.
At one point last month, four members of Congress of both parties called a news conference to announce that the organizations had reached a deal with the industry, only to cancel the conference at the last minute when it turned out there was no deal after all.
At today’s White House news conference to announce the deal, Gore is expected to be joined by McCain and other Republicans, as well as representatives of the parents’ and children’s groups. The TV industry did not plan to appear.