V-Chip Encoding Deemed Successful

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Washington -- Despite initial industry skepticism, the
Federal Communications Commission announced last Tuesday that the V-chip is closer to
becoming a reality.

The FCC supported that point by releasing a report saying
that a majority of top cable and broadcast networks voluntarily encode their programs to
use V-chip technology, which blocks out programs deemed inappropriate by parents.

According to the report, all four major broadcast networks
currently transmit ratings that can be received by televisions equipped with V-chips. The
five remaining broadcast networks plan to do so within the next year, the report stated.

Among the top 40 basic-cable networks, all but three
currently code programming or plan to do so. Black Entertainment Television, Home Shopping
Network and QVC have refused to comply with encoding guidelines.

"In order for the V-chip to work, televisions must
have V-chips built into them, and cable and broadcast networks must encode their
programming," said FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani, who heads the V-Chip Task Force.
"We owe it to parents across this country that when they buy a [TV set with a]
V-chip, the ratings will be properly encoded and the V-chip will work."

FCC chairman William Kennard established the task force in
May to work with equipment manufacturers and retailers, television-programming producers,
parents and other groups to coordinate V-chip implementation.

The V-chip was introduced after the Telecommunications Act
of 1996 encouraged networks to establish voluntary rules for rating programs.

Lawmakers who support the technology cited industry
compliance as a triumph over V-chip skeptics last Tuesday.

"When we first started out with this, it was easy to
be trivialized," Rep. John Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) said. "But because people across
the country believe this is the right thing to do, it has happened ... I think we have
been vindicated. For all of those people who said it wouldn't work, it does
work."

Spratt defended V-chip efforts to rate programming content
and suggested that networks should do more to improve content by "changing the way
they write scripts in the future."

"We see that there is a need for this," Spratt
added, "for less violence, less explicit sex and more wholesome family
entertainment."

While V-chip encoding is currently practiced by increasing
numbers of networks, concerns remain over ratings consistency and over those networks that
are not preparing for V-chip technology.

"I think [ratings consistency] is something that will
come with time," Tristani said. "With any new system, there will be kinks. I
think we really need to give this a chance to work."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) criticized programmers that have
been slow to comply. "Only an elementary schoolteacher has seen so many excuses for
being tardy with or missing an assignment," Markey said in a written statement.
"Excuses such as 'awaiting equipment arrival' have the all-too-familiar
ring to them as 'the dog ate my homework.'"

States News Service

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