Parents can't depend on new TV ratings, announced with great fanfare a year ago, to shield their kids from many shows that contain violence, sex or crude language, a new study concludes.
ABC, CBS, Fox and most cable networks began Oct. 1, 1997, using ``V,' ``S,' ``L' and ``D' alongside older age-based ratings to warn of violence, sex, crude language and suggestive dialogue.But the study released Thursday found that 79 percent of shows with violence did not carry a ``V' notation.
In addition, 92 percent of shows with sexual content lacked the ``S,' 91 percent with adult language did not use an ``L' and 83 percent with suggestive dialogue did not have a ``D.'
TV industry representatives admitted a need to apply the labels more effectively and to educate the public better but didn't believe the ratings should be overhauled.
``There's room for improvement,' said Richard Taylor, spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, whose president, Jack Valenti, oversaw creation of the ratings system. And Dennis Wharton, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman, said the association will listen to improvement suggestions but said: ``The system does not need to be changed.'
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., was optimistic that a ratings review board comprising industry representatives and parents would resolve the problems pointed out in the study. The group is to meet in November.
Thursday's report was commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on entertainment's impact on society, and conducted by the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The report said 81 percent of children's shows containing violence lacked the ``FV' notation, created to warn parents of fantasy violence such as that depicted in cartoons. It said 55 percent of all shows rated ``TV-Y,' appropriate for all children, contained some violence.
The study said, however, that the TV industry is accurately applying the age-based ratings, such as the most frequently used ``TV-PG,' suggesting parental guidance, to shows.
Researchers analyzed 1,147 randomly selected programs eligible for ratings, which aired in the winter and spring between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations, cable networks HBO, USA, TNT, Lifetime and Nickelodeon and independent TV station KTLA in Los Angeles. NBC uses only the age-based ratings, not the content labels, but the report said omitting that network's programs makes a difference of only 2 percentage points in the overall use of the labels.
``The vast majority of shows that contain sex and violence are not being flagged with the labels,' said Vicky Rideout, director of the foundation's program on entertainment media and public health. ``Yet parents find these labels the most useful part of the ratings system.'
The ratings are designed to work with blocking technology, the v-chip, which will let viewers block shows based on ratings.
The Federal Communications Commission requires TV set manufacturers to incorporate the v-chip in new sets beginning next year. The earliest will be Panasonic, whose representative said Thursday the company will have one model with the filtering device in stores next month.
Given the findings, v-chip TV sets offer parents ``only a modest degree of help in identifying potentially harmful violence they might wish to screen from their children's eyes,' the study concludes. Most parents who use the ratings - 55 percent - think any show with violence is supposed to get a ``V' label, according to a poll commissioned by the foundation. One reason some programs do not carry the ``V,' ``S,' ``L' and ``D' notations is because programs rated ``TV-G,' suitable for all ages, do not carry the extra content labels.
Another reason: Some programs rated ``TV-PG' or ``TV-14' lack the additional labels when the level or intensity of violence, sex or crude language is below that provided for in guidelines for the age-based rating.
For example, a show is given the ``TV-14' age rating for ``intense' violence, and also would get a ``V' label for that.
But if the show's ``TV-14' was because of sex or dialogue, and it contained only ``moderate' violence, it would not necessarily carry the ``V' for violence.