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Rate the Ratings

After months of criticism from both President Clinton and leading Republicans over what they consider socially irresponsible programming, television-industry executives were treated to several days of political plaudits last week, when they announced that they will craft a voluntary ratings system.

The announcement came on Feb. 29, shortly before industry leaders met with President Clinton at the White House.

Mr. Clinton had announced the meeting, and called for a ratings system, in his January State of the Union Address.

In the meantime, Congress passed a telecommunications bill last month that included a requirement that new televisions include the so-called v-chip, which will allow parents to block certain programming. Mr. Clinton signed the bill, enthusiastically hailing the v-chip technology.

The television industry's statement--which was signed by representatives of the four major networks, the Public Broadcasting Service, the National Cable Television Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Association of Local Television Stations--pledges that the industry will "encode" programs "to activate an electronic device which in turn responds to parental choice."

They pledged to devise a rating system similar to that used by the movie industry, and to implement it by next January.

"For an industry that gets more than its share of criticism, I think it is worth noting that you have all put aside your vigorous internal competitive rivalries and dealt with what I think is a very profound set of questions for the future," Mr. Clinton told the industry executives last week.

A day after the announcement, Mr. Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and Tipper Gore met with parents and children in the White House to discuss television violence.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., provided a note of skepticism amid the flurry of meetings, announcements, and news conferences.He said in a news release that the biggest problem with television is that an overwhelming majority of violent acts go unpunished.

"The v-chip is not a substitute for the industry's leaders and creative people improving what they produce," Mr. Simon said.

"As to ratings," he said, R-rated movies become "a magnet" for young male viewers, and ratings can only help when parents exercise control.

--Mark Pitsch

Vol. 15, Issue 24

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