Content Ratings Are Hot Topic at FCC

Turns out there is much interest in the FCC's congressionally mandated review of the TV content ratings system, driven in part by the followers of groups familiar in the fight for what they see as the need for more family-friendly programming--Parents Television Council, Concerned Women for America.

At press time, it was the busiest FCC docket in the past 30 days with 1,747 comments.

In the recent appropriations bill ending the government shutdown, there was requirement that the FCC study the effectiveness of the content ratings and its industry oversight board, with a directive to report back by mid-May.

Among the questions the FCC wants answered on the ratings system generally are (comments are due March 12 and replies March 19): "Are programs with violent, sexual, or other content that may be inappropriate for children being rated accurately? Are both the age and content-based ratings being correctly applied? Are the ratings being applied consistently, or is programming with similar content being rated differently? Is there a type of program content (e.g., violence or sexual content) that is particularly subject to being rated inaccurately or inconsistently?"

Among the questions it wants answered about the monitoring board are:

"Has the Board taken steps to respond to concerns raised about the accuracy of ratings being applied to television programming or any other issue raised by the public? Has the Board complied with the commitments it made regarding the TV Parental Guidelines? Are the ratings being applied to the video programming the Industry committed to rating? What steps has the Board taken to improve the accuracy of the ratings? Has the Board undertaken any enforcement efforts to ensure that the Industry is applying the ratings and doing so accurately?" Does the Board respond to comments submitted via [its] website and, if so, in what way? What other steps, if any, should the Board take to improve its responsiveness to public concerns about the TV ratings?"

Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America and one of the President's guests at his announcement this week of new speech conditions on educational grant money, told the FCC in her comments that the ratings are " routinely abused to peddle violent, lewd, and salacious content," and said that "CWA supporters want to urge [The FCC] to take a more active role to help protect families against this coordinated assault by entertainment companies." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.