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The V-Chip and You [Kids Today / USA Today]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Kids Today / USA Today
Cover story
May 12, 1996

How free will you be when you watch TV?

Congress, the President and TV executives all agree that it is important to control the amount of violence and other offensive programming on television. Now, they are debating the best way to protect kids from these types of shows.

Recently, Congress passed and the President signed a law that will require TV makers to put a “V-chip” into all televisions they produce starting in 1998. The tiny computer chip would let viewers, like your parents, block out shows they don’t want to watch based on ratings each show would be given. Television executives have agreed to voluntarily create this ratings system, which will begin in January.

The V-chip will read these ratings, which will be sent out as electronic signals by the networks. The actual ratings have not been created yet, but they will be similar to movie ratings.

Instead of telling you which movies are PG, PG-13 and NC-17, one proposal has these codes tell which shows are violent (V), which have bad language (L), and which have too much nudity (N), says Joel Fetterman of MediaScope, a media watchdog group.

The ratings may also have levels (1 to 5). A really violent show, for example, could be V5 and a less violent show could be V1. The ratings will be printed with TV listings.
What does this mean to TV shows now on the air? Well, experts say, “NYPD Blue” would probably get a V-rating. “Friends” might be rated L. Again, TV executives haven’t said exactly what letters and numbers they will use.

What does this mean to you? Would it be illegal for your parents to let you watch a V- rated show? No way, says Congressman Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who wrote some of the V-chip legislation.

“This is a free society,” he says. “The V-chip just acts like a seatbelt. It makes you safer when you use it, but you still have to rely on your parents to drive safely.”

There will still be much debate in the coming months as all of these plans are finalized. Some kids and others think the V-chip isn’t necessary that kids and their parents can decide what their family watches without a chip. Others say a mandatory chip gives government too much control over communication.

Says Mandy Burton of Harned, Ky.: “It is up to the parents to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, and reality and fantasy.”


More Kids Today / USA Today Articles

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• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
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• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.